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Residents in Russia’s Komi Republic are fed up with repeated oil leaks and spills

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A pipeline leak has caused oil to seep into the Kolva River in northern Russia for the past three weeks. But on May 26, locals realized the situation was even worse when they discovered a second leak. Outraged, those living in this isolated rural community are calling for a sustainable solution to the frequent oil spills in their region.

People in the small town of Kolva first noticed oil slicks discolored the nearby river of the same name on May 11. Horrified, they pulled out their phones to capture video of oil-covered chunks of ice floating along.

Kolva is located in a part of northwestern Russia known as the Komi Republic. The Komi indigenous people make up about a quarter of the population of this region.

This video, posted on Telegram on May 13, shows oil-covered ice blocks floating downstream near the town of Kolva.

The Lukoil gasoline company announced on May 17 that 100 tons of oil it had leaked from one of their pipes. Nine of these tons flowed into the Kolva River.

Three weeks later, as Lukoil’s teams and local volunteers worked to clean up the spill, Russian professor Ekaterina Diachkova discovered a new leak. Diachkova, who lives in the nearby town of Novikbozh, noticed a grayish liquid accumulating in a forest stream on May 26. He posted a video of the broadcast on the Russian social media site Vkontakte. The images show Diachkova taking a sample of the water for analysis.

The video shows Ekaterina Diachkova using a bottle to take a sample of the grayish substance that contaminates the vapor. She says in the video that it is 10 p.m. on May 26.

Diachkova then walked upstream and discovered that the grayish liquid was coming from an oil well. Someone had placed a barrel over the faulty well in an attempt to prevent it from spreading all over the ground.


‘If you look hard enough, you will always find a leak’

Diachkova is a member of the Pechora Rescue Committee, an organization that has been working on local environmental issues for the past 30 years. Diachkova, who has also served as an elected member of the Komi Republic State Council for the past two years, has long tried to raise awareness of ecological issues in the region.

It has been a long time since anyone drank the river water, although that is what we traditionally did. The quality of the water that comes out of the taps in our town is also poor and often contains high concentrations of iron and manganese. Although Lukoil installed a water treatment plant, we have not yet seen differences in the quality of the water.

Oil wells are very old and nobody pays much attention to them. We believe that drilling in pipes that are more than 20 years old should be prohibited, because they leak all the time. If you look hard enough, you will always find a leak.

Lukoil offers us little condolences, like building playgrounds or saunas. Do you know how many saunas you would need to wash off this dirt? Apart from clean air and water, we don’t need anything. We just need an environment where we can live in peace.

‘For people who make a living fishing or hunting, this pollution is catastrophic’

Ivan Ivanov is the chairman of the Pechora Rescue Committee. He said that the livelihoods of a large number of people in the region depend on the natural environment.

If they are not yet retired, the people who live in nearby villages work in the oil industry or earn their living by fishing, hunting, or gathering berries and mushrooms in the forest. For them, this contamination is catastrophic.

Agriculture and livestock are difficult in this region. The fields have been flooded by oil-contaminated water. It is dangerous for livestock, which sometimes become poisoned and sick or die. Cows that eat this contaminated grass then give milk for the locals to drink.

On May 31, the Attorney General of the Republic of Komis opened criminal proceedings in the May 11 oil spill.

Ministry of Natural Resources of the region confirmed that the second leak of liquid containing oil occurred on May 27. However, the federal office that oversees the environment said this second leak did not come of a pipe. Lukoil claimed that what happened was just a natural phenomenon that caused sand, water and rocks to rise to the surface. Experts cited in an article by RG.ru stated that “this natural phenomenon is not a threat to the environment because the rock is not very toxic.”

This is far from the first time that an oil spill has affected the region. In 1994, Komi experienced one of the worst catastrophes in Russian history, when tens of thousands of tons of oil spilled into rivers and spread across the tundra. From 2013 to 2015, there was another spill series – this time, smaller – and still more took place charging case.

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