Efforts to reopen a previously sealed oil well in the Russian Arctic caused up to 2,000 tons of crude to flow uncontrollably over a 37 hour period, covering an estimated 86,000 square feet of water around the Trebs Oil Field in the Nenets autonomous district of Northern Russia. While some environmental agencies in the region believe that the spill occurred far enough away that coastal wildlife will not be affected by the pollution, there are conflicting reports that the spill has affected 64,600 square feet of land, damaging pastures used by reindeer herdsmen.

nenets tribe, raindeer herding, arctic environment, northern russian, nenets distric, oil explorationImage (cc) ezioman on Flickr

The blowout occurred when workers attempted to reopen a exploratory well which had been sealed “a long time ago,” according to Viktor Ivkin, head of the Nenetsky autonomous district emergency ministry branch. It is believed that the corroded well plug broke in the process, causing a gush of at least 500 tons of crude oil each day as workers struggled to reseal it. The local chief of the Russian Environmental Agency, Vladimir Bezumov, told the AP that the cause of the blowout was “likely a combination of technical issues and human error,” and that Russian environmental officials would prepare a lawsuit “against the oil companies after the clean-up is over.”
The Trebs oil field exploration is being conducted by Russian companies Lukoil and Bashneft, who successfully bid for rights to the field in 2010. Believed to hold 153 million tons of oil, the Trebs oil field is one of several sites in the Nenets autonomous district found in the 1970s. The indigenous reindeer-herding Nenets tribe have adapted to live alongside oil and gas workers, although this recent spill is likely to heighten concerns about the environmental threat posed by drilling in the area. Oil companies are increasingly moving in to the warming, oil-rich area – British Petroleum announced that they would spend $10 billion on a joint venture to develop offshore oil fields in the Yamal-Nenets autonomous district.

Insurance market Lloyd’s of London voiced concerns earlier this month that increased oil exploration in Yamal-Nenets could cause significant damage to sensitive Arctic ecosystems, affecting the migration patterns of caribou and whales, while noise pollution from drilling and disturbances caused by constructing new roads could cause further damage to wildlife and frozen tundra. Furthermore, the AP cited experts saying that while Russia has not seen a major oil spill in years, “maintenance of pipelines in old fields is poor, and oil leaks from rusty pipes and poorly sealed wells daily”. An AP investigation last year showed that at least 1 percent of Russia’s annual oil production, or 5 million tons, is spilled into the environment every year.

Via Physorg, Huffington Post/AP, The Guardian

Lead Image Black Sea Oil Spill, 2006 (cc) marinephotobank on Flickr