BP In Russia: making Oil Fields

Oct 06, 2005

Guy Taylor went to Sibera to have a first hand look at the damage caused by TNK-BP

Running through the Samotlor oil field in western Siberia was not the best bet for a relaxing weekend break, but it certainly caused a stir in Russia. Environmentalists from IPROG (The Institute for Globalisation Studies) in Moscow invited George Galloway’s Respect Coalition to help in their campaign to get TNK-BP, the largest privately owned corporation in Russia, to clean up oil spills and leaks in Samotlor. They want UK Parliamentary questions asked, pressure put on BP (the major shareholder), and street protests in London. Such campaigning methods fall on sterile ground in Russia, perhaps activists and representatives could secure more of a result in the UK.

I went out to see the problem on behalf of Respect. Taking the somewhat un-environmental way of getting an overview in a helicopter, accompanied by a security services operative who forbade us from filming or taking photographs. I managed to sneak a couple on my mobile phone camera. After leaving the airport and our friend behind we went to the oil field at ground level to gather evidence. Walking for miles through silver birch woods and springy marshes we avoided the security and skirted some of the oil field taking photos, seeing many of the smaller swamps of oil. They usually occurred beside a road, along a pipe line or next to a drilling operation. In all thousands of hectares of land has been decimated in this way.

BP, with it’s eco-logo of a green and yellow flower design, it’s offensive on greenwash, spends a lot of time and a fair amount of money on it’s environmentally responsible image. But scratch that logo and see the dirt and grime, the death of wildlife and fauna, underneath.

The next day we managed to get a couple of lifts around the oil field itself, witnessing more of the damage. This time seeing swamps of oil laden devastation kilometres long at a time, being sure to take copious amounts of photographs and video footage.

Government is strong in Russia, when it comes to individual rights and security, corporations get an entirely different deal. It’s hard at times to tell where the state ends and the corporation begins. Former KGB personnel might equally work for the Alpha Group (the controlling oligarchy) or the state, and we were right to proceed with considerable caution. Tactics to avoid being followed bordered on the paranoid, but experience (thankfully other people’s) has shown the paranoia is not misplaced.

A press conference we held in Moscow once we got out of Siberia was a big success, and we managed to to get considerable coverage in the Russian press, a boost but far from a victory. The battle comes to the streets of London next Thursday (13 Oct) when respect, with George Galloway and visiting Russian activists will be protesting outside BP’s City of London Offices.

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