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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Burst Pipe in Bryansk Rattles Oil Markets

A rusted pipe in Russia's key oil-export pipeline system burst over the weekend, spilling 48 tons of oil in the western Bryansk region, emergency situations officials announced Monday.

Although relatively minor, the spill affected international oil prices, caused oil shipping delays and rekindled the debate over the safety of Russia's pipeline system.

The oil leaked from an eight-centimeter-wide offshoot of the Druzhba-1, the country's largest oil export pipeline to Europe, said Irina Yegorushkina, head of the press service of the Bryansk region division of the Emergency Situations Ministry.

The volume of oil spilled would fill a railway cistern.

The Natural Resources Ministry on Monday initially said the leak, which occurred Saturday on the border with Ukraine and Belarus, affected a 10-square-kilometer area and had contaminated water sources. Several hours later, the ministry backtracked on its earlier warning and issued a second statement saying experts were "not inclined to call the accident … an ecological catastrophe."

However, to prevent further ruptures, the Natural Resources Ministry asked Transneft to cut by 80 percent the pressure in the section where the spill had occured, Bloomberg reported.

The initial strong warning from the ministry and the lack of information surrounding the accident, which was made public only after two days, briefly affected world oil markets. Brent rose as high as $73.95 per barrel on the news of the leak and on instability in the Middle East.

The accident also led to a temporary shutdown of Druzhba's Unecha-Polotsk branch, where the spill took place.

A spokesman for Lithuania's Mazeikiu Nafta refinery confirmed Monday that the refinery did not receive some 50,000 tons of crude as a result of the accident.

However, on Monday the 40-year old pipeline was again working at full capacity and the clean-up operation was nearly complete, Yegorushkina said.

The 4,000-kilometer Druzhba-1 pipeline, most of which was built in the 1960s, can transport more than 1.2 million barrels per day and usually works at full capacity.

The pipeline's age appeared to be the main cause of the accident.

Oleg Mitvol, deputy head of the Federal Service for the Inspection of Natural Resources Use, the state environmental watchdog, attacked pipeline monopoly Transneft for failing to maintain its pipes.

According to Mitvol, who on Monday ventured out to the Bryansk region to assess the situation, 487 defects have been found in branches of the Unecha-Polotsk pipe in recent months. "According to the technical documentation we have received, in the current state, these pipelines cannot be used," Mitvol said, Interfax reported.

Yegorushkina said only 340 square meters of land had been contaminated by the spill.

Emergency services pumped out most of the leaked oil and removed earth to a depth of 50 centimeters to prevent the crude spreading further, she said.