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Russia's major crude oil producer has vowed to act following criticisms over its pollution record

By 0 and 0 and 0
23 April 2012


TNK-BP, a Russian-British company, is under fire concerning 784 environmental accidents reported in 2011, compared with 20 by rival Lukoil.

Yuri Trutnev, Natural Resources and Ecology Minister, ordered the state ecology watchdog to begin a lawsuit against TNK-BP over the oil spills in Siberia, stressing the producer's record was 'unsatisfactory'.

The legal action will seek damages from TNK-BP and also force the company to set out a plan for overhauling its pipeline network. 

Annually some 300,000 to 500,000 tons of oil are leaked into the Ob and Yenisei river basins, the Minister complained.

There was implied criticism by the government that TNK-BP should spend more money on cleaning up Siberia and less on dividends which have been described as 'generous'.

Energy minister Sergei Shmatko highlighted at the government meeting dividends of almost $8 billion last year. Putin is said to have asked incredulously: 'Eight billion dollars?'

Foreign companies have complained in the past about ecological concerns being cited as grounds for attacks motivated by other factors on companies.

However, TNK-BP made clear it understood the urgency of a clean-up.

‘Even though the frequency of incidents is being steadily reduced, these figures demonstrate the urgency of environmental issues in the company's work’, said a statement.

‘Since the company was established in September 2003, environmental protection has been and remains a priority in TNK-BP's business activities’. 

The company, owned by multinational giant BP along with Alfa, Access and Renova Group, insisted it had invested $2.1 billion on protecting the environment including $285 million at Samotlor over the past three years.

The Samotlor Oil Field is the biggest in Russia, and one of the largest in the world, originally exploited in Soviet times.

Samotlor means 'Dead Lake’, or 'Bad Waters', in the Khanti language.

The oil field is situated in Khanti-Mansiyskiy Autonomous Region, close to Lake Samotlor.

The first recce drilling was in June 1965, and as people who worked there recollect, 'a fountain of oil, like we had never seen before, sprung into the sky. It was more than a thousand tons of oil within just one day — the oil was pushing out with such might that it heated the steel pipes.'

Samotlor is surrounded for miles and miles by marshland, and by time the best Soviet geologists started working, there was no practice in the world of how to develop such an oil field. 'A unique decision was made to work right on the lake, and create artificial islands to place the derricks there.'

Exploitation of the oil field began in 1967 and the first oil was produced in 1969. Nizhnevartovsk was transformed from a sleepy nearby village into a busy oil city. 

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