Russia: Izvatas declare oil company "Persona non grata"
In 1994, the world’s worst ever onshore oilspill hit the district of Usinsk, just north of Izhma district in Russia. Since then, the Komi speaking ethnic group Izvatas (Komi-Izhemtsy) have viewed the oil industry’s operations with great anxiety. Recently the Izvatas gathered and issued a joint demand for the company LUKoil to terminate its activities within their district.
The “Izvatas”, as they call themselves, are an ethnic group of the Komi people. They live in the Izhma district in the North of Komi republic located just westwards of the Ural mountains. The Izvatas are the only ethnic group of the Komi, which engages in semi-nomadic reindeer herding. For many years, they have been seeking recognition as one of Russia’ indigenous small-numbered peoples, but their aspirations continue to be denied. Izvatas gather to terminate "LUKoil-komi" operations on their territory In February 2014, inhabitants of the village Krasnobor in Usinsk discovered several oil rigs which had been deployed literally right on the edge of the village. The construction had commenced without agreement and without notice to the local inhabitants or the administration. This was the straw breaking the camel’s back, as the list of grievances of local inhabitants against the oil company has been continuously growing in recent years. In a move very rare in contemporary Russia, on 3 April, the participants at a gathering of residents of Izhma district unanimously resolved to terminate the operations of the oil company “LUKoil-Komi” within their territory.
UPDATE: On 11 April, the Izhma district council voted unanimously to support the move More than 150 attendants gathered in the culture house of Krasnobor village, representing twelve settlements. The gathering was also attended by the prosecutor’s office, the environmental group “Committee to Save Pechora”, the indigenous peoples’ organisation “Izvatas”, the head of administration of the Izhma district and members of the district and village councils. Representatives of “LUKoil” had been invited but declined the invitation. The resolution adopted at the gathering reads: “The inhabitants of Krasnobor and other villages of Izhma district are outraged at the unceasing violations of environmental legislation committed by LUKoil-Komi and its subsidiaries and also the the laisser-faire attitude towards these violations displayed by the head of the district administration (I.V. Norkin)”. The main grievances against “LUKoil” are:
- The construction of oil rig platforms on the Shchelyayurskoye oil field without public hearing. When the village community of Krasnobor voiced their demand for a hearing, the hearin was eventually conducted in another village.
- The construction of a long-distance oil pipeline through the district, following tacit “public” hearings, without adequate agreement with the regional authorities.
- Inadequate conduct of a “clean up” operation of an oil spill from a gathering oil pipeline covering 0.6 ha in March 2014 by means of igniting the oil. Over the course of two days following the incident, the inhabitants of Shchelyayur, located 10 kilometres from the site of the spill, observed black smoke during the day and a glare during the night. The company has silenced the entere incident.
- An attempted cover-up another spill at the oil pipeline Nizevaya-Makaryol, which occurred a few days later.
Considering the unlawful acts committed by LUKoil-Komi and its subsidiaries, and also the inaction of the municipal authorities, the gathering demanded:
- From the public prosecutor of Komi Republic and the Pechora environmental prosecutor to file criminal charges regarding the burning of the spilled oil and to bring the perpetrators to criminal liability according to the law.
- From the heads of Izhma district and the village of Krasnobor to hold in April 2014, within the village a legitimate public hearing regarding the construction of the oil rig platform, located on the territory of the village Krasnobor.
- From the authorities and the involved stakeholders to hold public hearings on the construction of the long-distance oil pipeline crossing through the territory of Izhma district.
The participants resolved that until the above demands are fulfilled, all oil company operations within the district’s territory must be halted. They agreed that issue must be brought to the attention of the members of the district council during the upcoming session, urging them to support the demand to halt oil company operations on the district’s territory.