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It is impossible to tolerate catastrophes on the shelf

Vasily Bogoyavlensky on combating oil spills of man and nature

The consequences of the release of oil on the platform Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 eliminated almost 50 thousand people. At an international symposium on the topic of fighting such disasters on the Arctic shelf, experts discussed how much Russian companies are ready for prompt liquidation of spills. How cooperation with foreigners will help in this, says Vasily Bogoyavlensky, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, professor, deputy director of the Institute of the Oil and Gas Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

It is impossible to tolerate catastrophes on the shelf
Photo: Organizing Committee of the Symposium
- What is the main purpose of the symposium?
- To gather international experts, share experience on overcoming difficulties in the liquidation of oil spills on the example of the tragedy that occurred 20 April 2010 year in the Gulf of Mexico, when one of the most modern drilling platforms in the world, there was an outflow of oil and gas mixture with fire. Then eleven people died, within a day the platform was burnt and drowned. For 87 days there was a struggle to eliminate the consequences, stop the flow of the well from the seabed. A huge oil spot reached the shore, pollution was over two thousand kilometers of the coastline. According to the updated data, which were sounded at the symposium, at the peak of the work to eliminate the consequences, more than 48 thousand people were involved, over 6 thousand ships and various boats and more than 2 thousand km of barrage booms.

- Would people have coped without the ability to self-purification of nature itself?
- The warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico made a positive contribution to the elimination of consequences, bacteria helped to cope with the pollution of the aquatic environment, although most of the oil still settled to the bottom, evaporated into the atmosphere or ended up on the shore. And even in the subequatorial conditions of the Gulf of Mexico, favorable for elimination works, only about 25 percent of the oil was collected or burned, and nature fought with the remaining 75 percent. In addition, there was a large emission of unaccounted-for associated gas into the water column and atmosphere. Our American colleagues told us in detail how they coped with the aftermath of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, understanding our interest in this issue, because Russian companies are increasing oil and gas production on the shelf of six seas, including the Arctic. Also, foreign experts familiarized us with the results of various experimental works to eliminate spills, which they are carrying out in Arctic conditions on the shelf of Alaska.

- How relevant is the experience of American scientists to Russia?
- For us, it is undoubtedly relevant. For example, in the United States, great attention during the liquidation of such spills is paid to the burning and use of dispersants, which help to decompose oil into less harmful components. And for each specific application of dispersants, we still need a special permit from Rosprirodnadzor, which requires time for approval. Dispersants must be purchased abroad, or create their own. Some Russian organizations have already created or are creating analogues, and, perhaps, even better than foreign, mixtures of compounds for eliminating such consequences. Today we are talking about conducting experimental work and obtaining various approvals for their application.

- How modern are the methods of eliminating technological accidents on the shelf of the Arctic seas in Russia?
- So far, as already mentioned, we do not use dispersants. And we actually need to seriously address this issue, because it is not reliably clear what harms nature more: the actual spilled oil or chemistry, which we then pour there. Apparently, for this reason, we have not yet regulated the use of these chemical compounds. In addition, I still do not see that any experimental work was carried out in this direction, research funding was allocated. So far this is only an initiative of a number of institutes, including the Academy of Sciences. On the Russian shelf, the main functions for the elimination of pollution as a result of man-made accidents are assigned to the Morspasluzhba, which is part of Rosmorrechflot. The head of this service, Andrei Khaustov, made a report at the symposium and told about the oil spill response tests conducted in the area of ​​the Prirazlomnaya platform, and the next tests, by the way, were held in ice conditions just two weeks ago. Also in the Russian Arctic Ministry of Emergency Situations, several spill response centers have been created and additional centers are being created. That is, work is underway, but it is important that they go not with a lag, but ahead of schedule with respect to the development of shelf resources.

- What problems of anthropogenic character in the development of the shelf are the main ones?
- Having analyzed large amounts of data and the results of field development both on the Russian shelf and on land, and in other regions of the world, I see that, despite the technological progress, the quality of well cementing is still low. A frequent problem is the flow of gas primarily along the caving area: the gas spreads and generates technogenic deposits that need to be identified, contoured and extracted, even if it is unprofitable work. Because hydrocarbons under the influence of the gravitational effect tend to reach the surface and can disrupt the ecosystem not only during the production of hydrocarbons, but also after many years. I believe that in the Gulf of Mexico, the bulk of the numerous oil and gas outlets on the surface is not of a natural nature, as the American colleagues think, but man-made. And it happened first of all because of poorly mothballed or badly liquidated wells, of which more than 30 thousand. Russia in the large-scale development of the Arctic shelf is important to prevent such a situation. We need to learn from other people's mistakes in order to minimize the number of our own, which are inevitable even at the highest technological level. The human factor, because of which the majority of accidents and disasters occur, will not be exterminated.

- What role do experts make? The Arctic Council and the Antarctic Council of the Federation Council In the matter of minimizing man-made threats?
- Recently, we held a joint meeting of experts from various organizations in the field of environmental management, environmental and economic security in the development of hydrocarbons in the Federation Council. It was a very useful meeting, which brought together about a hundred participants. Based on its results, a resolution was prepared, which will be approved by the heads of all expert councils, including the chairman of the Council on the Arctic and Antarctic Vyacheslav Shtyrov. Then it will be sent to the governing bodies of the country to implement the recommendations.

- Is it possible to say that the intensification of attention to this problem is connected with the Year of Ecology in Russia?
- At the symposium, we managed to gather experts from various organizations, there were many representatives of Gazprom, Rosneft, and leading institutions. This work is important because it allows you to share experiences, improve the skills of experts. Science develops in parallel in different organizations, countries, someone ahead of someone, creates fundamentally new technologies and technical means that must be promptly implemented in production. I want to emphasize that the International Symposium held is not a tribute to the current moment. He systematically prepared for about a year, experts from the Russian Academy of Sciences, the IM Gubkin University in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), experts, experts and scientists from around the world. We see a strong reciprocal desire for interaction from the United States of America. Our colleagues from the United States are open, a very fruitful, friendly atmosphere was created at the symposium. I believe that such meetings are necessary, this is how not only scientific and friendly relations between specialists from different industries are strengthened, but also trusting friendly relations between countries.
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