Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Watchdog Reports TNK-BP Oil Leak

The Natural Resources Ministry's environmental agency said Saturday that environmental violations at Orenburgneft, a subsidiary of British-Russian oil firm TNK-BP, had caused an oil pipeline leak Feb. 28 that threatened water supplies.

"The problem is a pipeline accident at Orenburgneft's Krasnoyarskoye oil field, which led to oil leaking into Bolshoi Kinel River," Oleg Mitvol, deputy head of the agency, was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Mitvol said pipeline traffic had been stopped, and the agency was trying to estimate the environmental damage. Local media reported earlier last week that about five tons of oil products had leaked into the river in the eastern Russian region of Orenburg, which borders Kazakhstan.

Operations of TNK-BP's parent, BP, are under intense scrutiny after a corroded transit pipeline at its giant Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska ruptured last March, resulting in the largest-ever onshore oil spill in the U.S. state.

Mitvol said worn-out machinery at Orenburgneft, which produced 120 million barrels of crude in 2006, had caused the leak, posing a danger to water supplies.

The TNK-BP joint venture is itself under a cloud because the state is threatening to withdraw its license for the Kovykta gas field, a huge field well placed for gas exports to China. Mitvol has asked prosecutors to look into ecological violations there.

Mitvol's agency plans to start new checks on the ExxonMobil-led Sakhalin-1 oil and gas project at the end of March, he said Thursday.

Mitvol said the examination of the project on the Pacific island of Sakhalin would focus on how Exxon and its partners fulfill their environmental obligations.

"We plan to start the first part of the checks -- the paperwork -- on March 28. About a month after that, probably in May, the second part -- the checks on the ground -- is to begin," Mitvol said.

Previous inspections, conducted last year by the government's technical standards agency delayed full- scale exports from the project by several months after it said Exxon needed to do more work at its Pacific export terminal.

Mitvol led inspections of Royal Dutch Shell's neighboring Sakhalin-2 oil and gas scheme last year, and analysts said his actions helped persuade the group to sell a controlling stake to Gazprom for $7.45 billion.

The pressure quickly subsided after the sale.

Gazprom's Sakhalin-2 deal was one of the latest examples of the Kremlin's desire to regain control over all big projects in top industries.

But analysts say a similar outcome is unlikely at Sakhalin-1, where the project also includes powerful state-controlled company Rosneft as a partner.

Exxon's Sakhalin and BP's venture TNK-BP remain the last large foreign-led energy projects in Russia.

Mitvol also said his agency would start another inspection of French company Total's Kharyaga oil project in Russia's Arctic on March 12.

"Previous checks, conducted last year, discovered some problems in fulfilling the licensing agreement, so we will check whether they have been settled," he said.