Environmentalists warn of risks of Arctic drilling

Activists say that drilling in the Russian Arctic could have disastrous consequences

Published August 14, 2012 1:15PM (EDT)

MOSCOW (AP) — Environmental activists warned Tuesday that drilling for oil in the Russian Arctic could have disastrous consequences because of the lack of technology and infrastructure to deal with a possible spill.

Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund unveiled a report assessing the risks of an oil spill in the Pechora Sea in Russia's Arctic, where state-owned Gazprom has installed a huge drilling platform.

The report concludes that a sizeable spill from the Prirazlomnaya platform could contaminate protected areas and nature reserves on the shore and islands within about 20 hours after a spill, while emergency teams would take at least three days to reach the area. The platform is about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from Murmansk, the nearest port.

The report was commissioned by the two environmental organizations and compiled by an independent Moscow-based think tank.

Greenpeace International's director Kumi Naidoo told a news conference that the report reflects "a very potent reality — and that is an oil spill in the Arctic would be virtually impossible to clean up."

A projected oil spill that releases 10,000 metric tons of oil over five days would contaminate half a million square kilometers (about 300,000 square miles) of water, the report said.

Environmentalists insist that oil production in the Arctic is unprofitable and cannot survive without government subsidies.

"Oil companies would not be rushing to the Arctic so eagerly if it wasn't for politicians who push them to," Igor Chestin, head of WWF in Russia, said Tuesday.

Russian oil companies have never operated in weather conditions as harsh as those found in the ice-bound Arctic, where ice ridges are meters (yards) deep and storms are frequent.

Gazprom is pioneering the oil development of Russia's sector of the Arctic and was the first Russian company to dispatch a drilling rig to the Pechora Sea in northwest Russia last year. The oil field they are prospecting holds some 6.6 million tons of oil.

Environmentalists argue that Artic drilling is a hazard that mankind cannot afford since there are no tried and tested technologies to deal with oil spills in conditions with ice — under ice in particular.

Gazprom was not immediately available for comment.

An AP investigation last year found that at least 1 percent of Russia's annual oil production, or 5 million tons, is spilled every year. Crumbling infrastructure and a harsh climate are believed to be the main factors for the spills.

By Nataliya Vasilyeva

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