Lukoil Fined Over Pollution in Russia’s Komi Region
11 May 2012 - 11:37 by OOSKAnews Correspondent
Russia, SYKTYVKAR — On May 7, a court in the Komi Republic of Russia fined Lukoil, one of the major state-owned oil companies, $50,000 for releasing untreated sewage into a river during the autumn of 2011.
The Komi Republic covers a vast area stretching from the eastern European plain far north into the Arctic Circle. The region is approximately the size of California, with a population of less than one million people.
Most of the population is employed in extracting the region’s varied natural resources, and there has been growing tension in recent years between industry and environmentalists seeking to preserve the region’s unique and legally protected ecosystems.
The regional environmental prosecutor’s office was alerted to the case by concerned locals living downstream of a Lukoil facility in the Yarega oilfield.
The company had the legal right to release wastewater into the river, providing it was treated to a certain standard.
However, an investigation found that the wastewater was subject to no more than a cursory treatment process, far below the standards required, as a means of reducing the operating costs.
Pollution of chemical and biological waste entered the river, causing environmental damage that is still being assessed and putting human health at risk in downstream settlements.
Although the result of the court case is a success for the environmental prosecutor’s office, which had pressed hard for a conviction, the fine levied is considerably lower than hoped for and led to swift accusations of corruption.
The first estimate of the environmental damage caused by the pollution, before the risks to human health or punitive damages are taken into account, is $100,000 USD, twice the amount of the fine levied against Lukoil.
The immediate suspicion among environmentalists in the region and in Moscow is that the company used its immense financial influence to reduce the action taken against it to the very minimum that could be maintained as credible.
It remains unclear at this point whether the influence concerned was in the form of direct, corrupt payments to the legal officials involved in the case, or indirect threats and pressure on the regional government, which is heavily reliant on the company and its infrastructure.
Environmental groups in Moscow have expressed concern about the facts of the Lukoil case in Komi, but have pointed out that the high profile reaction to this and other examples of the previously all-powerful oil and gas companies having to end their cost-cutting practices of releasing untreated wastewater is real progress in the fight to protect Russia’s water assets.