Prirazlomnaya oil spill would threaten Russian Arctic with irreparable disaster: study
Such an accident could lead to serious, long-term pollution of this fragile region, including nearby protected coastal areas and crucial wildlife habitiat.
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Experts at the Russian center Informatica Riska ran computerised risk models on various oil spill scenarios on the platform Prirazlomnaya and determined the total area which may be affected by an accident.
"Our analysis showed that, within the standards established by the spill volumes, we could often observe conditions when the operating company will not be able to contain and recover the spill. For example, if a spill occurred at night or under adverse meteorological conditions,” said Valentin Zhuravel, project manager at Informatica Riska. “This can lead to significant pollution in the Pechora Sea coast and protected areas".
To calculate a potential oil spill’s trajectory and the way it might spread, scientists used a special program that takes into account a wide set of parameters: the volume of spilled oil, hydro-meteorological conditions during the accident (the strength and direction of wind, wave height, ice conditions), as well as the actions the company takes to manage the spill. The maximum amount of the spill was calculated according to official regulations: 1,500 tons for the wells and 10,000 tons for the tanker.
The experts reviewed tens of thousands of possible scenarios and concluded that the area of possible contamination covers over 140,000 square kilometers of open water, as well as over 3,000 kilometers of coastline. The area at risk also includes three protected areas located 50-60 km from the Prirazlomnaya oil platform: the Nenetsky natural reserve, as well as two wildlife preserves, Vaigach and Nenetsky. These reserves are home to walruses and countless species of birds. Gazprom does not include any funds for animal rescue in its oil spill response plan.
"There are no technologies to effectively remove the oil after a spill in the Arctic. For example, the list of equipment the operator of Prirazlomnaya has available to clean the shores includes 15 shovels, 15 buckets and one sledgehammer," said Igor Chestin, director of WWF-Russia. “Since we do not have the technology to guarantee the mitigation of the consequences of an oil spill, we shouldn’t even talk about industrial development in the offshore Arctic shelf".