Quietly flows the Kolva – an Arctic oil story

The Kolva River runs through the oil-rich Komi Republic and Nenets Autonomous Okrug.

As energy companies step up extraction on the tundra, a number of local villages are getting paid in oil spills. Among the waterways badly hit is the Kolva River in the Timan-Pechora province.


The Nenets Autonomous Okrug and the Komi Republic have over the last ten years seen a major growth in oil production. As data from the area show, production in the Nenets AO in few years more than tripled. While oil companies in the region in 2000 produced 4,5 million ton, they ten years later produced more than 18 million. In the neighboring Komi Republic, the production have increased steadily from 9 million tons in 2000 to 13,7 million in 2012. After 2010, production in the Nenets AO dropped  significantly following Lukoil’s failed production targets at the Yuzno-Khilchuyu field. But the figures are bound to bounce back soon.

With the increasing production has come also a major increase in oil pollution. Over the last twenty years, one of the major rivers in the area, the more than 500 km long Kolva, has been in the epicenter of a number of serious spills. The latest happened in early summer 2013, when significant volumes spilled from a newly built pipeline. Some of it ran into the Kolva and further into the adjacent rivers of Usa and Pechora. The Rusvietpetro company, a joint venture of Zarubezhneft and the Petrovietnam, got the blame for the accident.

The spill came after a series of similar incidents. According to the Komi Prosecutor’s Office, as many as 89 spills have been registered in the region between 2011 and 2013. Some of these spills have had irrepairable consequences on nature, the 7x7 Journal informs.

Major spills took place in 1988 and in 1992. However, the by far biggest accident in the area unfolded in 1994 when more than 100,000 tons, and by some estimates more than 200,000 tons, spilled into the tundra from a pipeline between Usinsk and Kharyaga. Other spills followed, among them in 2007 and 2010.

According to the local population, the health situation in the area is seriously affected by the oil pollution. People in the village of Kolva report about a stable increase in health problems related with the respiratory and digestive organs, as well as infectious and oncological diseases, the 7x7 journal informs.

Journalists in the Komi Republic in July 2013 assembled a number of environmental experts to discuss the effects of the oil pollution. “How much more oil will be spilled”, the round table participants asked. According to Valentina Semyashkina from the Save Pechora Committee, the regional oil companies do not care to inform the local populations about accidents, nor quickly engage the emergency services. She says that the Rusvietpetro company has not yet revealed the volumes of oil which spilled into the Kolva during the accident in May. So far, the official figure is 4,5 tons, but the locals living along the river have themselved cleaned up more than 65 tons, she says.

It is today subsidiaries of oil majors Lukoil and Rosneft, which are ruling the ground in the Nenets AO and Komi Republic. Lukoil has been engaged in the region since the late 1990s and in 2007 opened its Varandey terminal on the Pechora Sea coast, an installation which has the capacity to export up to 12 million tons per year. At the same time, the company opened its Yuzhno-Khilchuyu field, one of the major oil deposits in the region. A major share of the company’s regional operations are now conducted by the Lukoil-Komi subsidiary.

Rosneft operates in the region through several subsidiaries, among them the SeverNeft.