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Arctic oil is not safe, says Russian expert

Russian oil industry faces huge challenges with the construction of rigs and platforms. Here from the construction of the Polyarnaya Zvezda platform. Photo: Gazflot.ru

New Russian oil platforms are not up for the task and shipping along the Northern Sea Route poses a great risk to Arctic nature, a leading Russian expert maintains.

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Talking at the international conference on Logistics in the Arctic, recently held in Murmansk, Mikhail Grigoriev claimed that new platforms built for operations in the Russian Arctic are insufficently well built.

According to Grigoriev, an expert working for the science unit under the Russian Security Council, the two platforms built for the Shtokman project – the ”Severnoye Siyanie” and the ”Polyarnaya Zvezda”, alone have about 700 flaws registered. The rigs, which formally were taken over by Gazprom-subsidiary Gazflot in 2011, are now based in the Far East. ”When and how the flaws are to be eliminated, is incomprehensible,” Rossiiskaya Gazeta quotes Grigoriev as saying. He believes the situation with the rigs is made more complicated with the continued postponments of the Shtokman project.

Reportedly, Gazprom is now looking for a buyer for Gazflot and might hand over its ambitious vessel and rig development program to other companies. 

Grigoriev also voices concern about the quickly growing shipping along the Northern Sea Route. If an oil spill takes place half-way on the route, it might take up to five days for emergency and rescue vessels to get to the site, he maintains. Currently, there are suitable emergency vessels based only in Murmansk, he adds.

The worries of Mr Grigoriev echo the conclusions made in a 2011 Lloyd’s report. Charles Emmerson, one of the authors of the report, told BarentsObserver that “if something goes wrong in the north it will impact not just one company - but an entire industry. If development is to happen sustainably, all companies have to do this right, and demonstrating this day in and day out.” 

Russia does however have plans for how to cope with the situation. As previously reported, more than €23 million are over the next few years to be invested in the development of ten emergency rescue centers along the route. A total of 980 persons will be working at the centers, which are to be ready for operation by 2015. The first center will open in August 2012 in Dudinka. Anothern three centers will be located on Chukotka and Anadyr. The remaining centers will be located in Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, Naryan-Mar, Vorkuta, Nadym and Tiksi.

The volumes of cargo shipped transit along the Arctic route from 2010 to 2011 increased from 111.000 tons to 835.000 tons. In 2012, volumes are expected to increase to more than 1,5 million tons.