Sheesh, Russia

Relations between Russia and Britain have been strained for over a year now, what with all the radioactive poisonings and art shows and cultural office tussles, but now the Russian government is upping the ante. The ministry for Natural Resources, Rosprirodnadzor (in the long tradition of awesome Russian names) announced an environmental inquiry into the practices of British Petroleum’s operation at Samotlor oil field late last week. Production at that field alone accounts for about 1/4th of BPs oil production.

Soviet oil production was never know for its responsible environmental practices, and a conglomerate was formed in 2003 with BP to improve the widespread leaks and groundwater contamination already at the Siberian site. But Russia has been trying to consolidate oil production under their nationally-controlled Gazprom, and things aren’t looking good for BPs investment. In 2006, the same environmental inquiries were made into another foreign-run oil field in Russia:

In 2006, the same Russian environmental agency threatened Royal Dutch Shell with multibillion-dollar fines in a months-long campaign that led to Shell’s selling a controlling stake of its Sakhalin Island oil and gas development to Gazprom.

After Gazprom bought the stake, the agency dropped its environmental complaints and work continued.

The same inspector in the Shell situation, Oleg L. Mitvol, the agency’s deputy director, was appointed to lead the investigation at TNK-BP’s Samotlor field, according to the statement.

So.  Hurrah for the concept of environmental enforcement, I guess.  But Russia is just using “concern for the environment” as a shield in their quest to do whatever they feel like.  I admire them for their skill in doing whatever they, like, actually- it makes keeping up with international events that much more scary, entertaining, and bizarre.  But it’s discouraging to open an article on the environmental failings of Big Oil and sympathize with Big Oil after you read the details.  Sure, their site might be a mess, but I bet it’s not much worse than any other oil field in the former USSR.  Russia makes a mockery of environmental protections.  I guess it’s what’s left to do, after they’ve made such a mockery of open democracy and the rule of law.

4 Responses to “Sheesh, Russia”

  1. 1 g March 23, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    This is one of the New Kremlin’s oldest tactics, and while the use of specifically environmental laws is a first, I think, the general concept of selective enforcement has been a favorite of the Putin government and even well before. Whether its keeping opposition candidates from running because the signatures on their filing sheets are found to be “fraudulent” to jailing top media moguls for tax evasion and monopolism, its all the same maneuver under a different headline. It is also an extremely effective way to consolidate state control of any particular industry on the cheap, and as long as they hold the cards in terms of oil and gas export it won’t change any time soon. The US has precisely zero leverage over Russia as long as gas prices swing elections, and nobody in Europe is too eager to have a dark and chilly winter due to the Ukrainian gas pipeline going on hiatus in reward for their concern.

    I also must agree that it is particularly amusing that the Kremlin should wheel such a blatantly ignored enviro law (who knew the Russians even had them in the first place?) to slap BP. One need only look at the absolutely devestation the Baikonur Cosmodrome has caused to much of north Khazakhstan (a pretty incredible feat, given how unbelievably large the country is) ( or, I dunno, that fact that they had an Orange Orthodox Christmas in Siberia ( to truly enjoy the hypocrisy.

    Also, for the record, Rosprirodnadzor is cute and all, but Rosoboronexport wins the awesome name game hands down. They sell MiGs, after all…

  2. 2 virescent March 24, 2008 at 11:27 am

    Good summation. Russia can be so infuriating, but I do admit, whenever I hear about their latest game, I have to chuckle at the chutzpah before my proper judgement kicks in.

    Thanks for the link on the Cosmodrome- Soviet public works projects kinda invented large-scale environmental devestation. And especially after Chernobyl, the environmentalist movement was a key part of opposition to the Party- safer to complain about pollution caused by the government than oppressive politics caused by the government. I am interested if this is the first case of a government using faux-environmental concern to crush opponenents though- probably not, but I bet it’s the most brazen.

  3. 3 Cameron March 25, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    They’re like the us of over there!!

  4. 4 virescent March 25, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Only since it’s them, and it’s over there, it’s amusing. Whereas when we do it, I want to punch walls.

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