Oil spills are by no means restricted to this region. According to the Russian Ministry of Energy, there were over 17,000 leaks in 2019, mostly from pipelines. That data suggests an oil spill is happening somewhere in Russia almost every half hour. By comparison, the US recorded 137 spills in 2018. In Canada, where climate conditions at oil wells are similar to those in Russia, only 60 events with oil releases were documented in 2019.
Russia’s pipeline system is one of the longest in the world and was largely developed in the Soviet era. Oil pipelines alone stretch for 53,000 kilometers (32,933 miles) — more than once around the whole Earth.
However, more than half of all oil pipelines in the country are worn from age, which is causing most of the leaks, says Russia’s Natural Resources and Environment Ministry.
Oil workers from companies operating in Russia’s far north confirmed in anonymous interviews with DW that the infrastructure at some oil wells is inadequate.
Regular check-ups and replacement of pipes are costly for companies and often aren’t done thoroughly. Greenpeace Russia estimates that the country’s oil companies save around $3 billion (€2.5 billion) annually by not investing in new infrastructure. This, according to Greenpeace, helps to keep production costs lower and makes the industry more profitable for investors.