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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cleanup Effort, Natural Healing Aid Komi Spill Site

USINSK, Northern Russia -- Almost a year after Russia's most-publicized oil spill in the far northern Komi region, Mother Nature is making a comeback.


Green grass and shrubs are sprouting from the swampy stained soil that became the focus of a major international clean-up operation. A small army of about 800 well-equipped workers, led by a team of U.S. and Australian experts, has also prevented large amounts of oil from flooding into nearby rivers.


A major environmental disaster has been contained. But the vast area, which takes at least two days to survey, is far from clean. Entire creeks and bogs are filled with thick black sludge and some environmentalists fear that when foreign finance dries up, the tundra will still be at the mercy of the remaining oil.


AES/Hartec, the U.S.-Australian joint venture contracted to handle the clean-up, has completed 65 percent of its planned work here and is due to leave the area by Sept. 24.


Bert Hartley, president of U.S. partner Hartec Management, said the all-Russian future of the operation depended on cash. "It's a matter of economy," he said during a visit to the spill site, about 1,500 kilometers north of Moscow. "If they are supported with the appropriate financing, they will continue to progress in their environmental responsibility."


The Komi clean-up is being paid for by the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which together lent $124 million to pipeline owner Komineft.


Estimates for the size of the spill vary from 14,000 to 300,000 tons, although some of the higher figures include oil that spilled before leaks worsened last autumn.


The Environment Ministry puts it at between 90,000 and 120,000 tons -- more than twice as much as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska.