Belarus state oil company Belneftekhim informed European oil companies on April 19 that crude oil coming from Russia had been heavily contaminated with organic chlorine. The Belarusian side said it would seek compensation from Russia for the damage caused to the pipelines and refineries by the polluted oil.
The Russian state oil company Transneft initially downplayed the issue, saying the incident was minor and the situation would be “normalized” within a week.
Polygraph.info video by Nik Yarst
On April 30, an analysis by Reuters news agency showed the scope of the problem was much greater than Transneft, which operates the pipelines, had portrayed it: by the time Belarus completely shut down its pipelines and stopped Russian oil shipments, European clients had already purchased $2.7 billion worth of contaminated crude.
That same day, Putin summoned the head of Transneft, Nikolay Tokarev, to the Kremlin, demanding an explanation.
Tokarev said an internal investigation by Transneft had concluded that the contamination might have been the result of fraud perpetrated by a private firm in Russia’s Samara region -- a theory that Putin, at least publicly, seemed to accept without questioning its veracity.
To date, no plausible evidence of such fraud has been produced.
Moreover, foreign experts have questioned the credibility of Transneft’s version of events.
Slovak energy expert Karel Hirman told the Czech media Denik N: “This ‘explanation’ by the state oil company Transneft, which controls all Russia’s pipelines, is simply shocking. Apparently, the company does not have control over this vitally and strategically important infrastructure that is bringing Russia a majority of its revenue.”
Hirman said it remains a “mystery” to him “why President Putin, according to his own words, entrusted the investigation to Transneft” instead of ordering the special services to intervene.
“Giving the scope and level of pollution, it is obvious that the process (of contamination) was long and widespread. But small Russian companies extract, in the best cases, only a few hundred thousand tons per year, and precisely because of the low quality of their oil, they don’t get access to the export pipelines,” Hirman said.
Reports indicate that about 36.7 million barrels of oil was heavily contaminated.
Transneft said Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has launched an investigation on April 27, calling the contamination an act of “sabotage.”
Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered a “criminal and technological probe” of the incident.
We find the original claim is “unclear,” since apparently official investigations are ordered and the results not yet available.
Russia said it had sent clean oil to the pipelines in Ukraine and Belarus on May 6, but Belarus said dealing with the damaging consequences of the chlorine contamination might take months.
This was about two and a half weeks after the problem was originally reported on April 19th, about twice as long as Transneft said it would take for the oil deliveries to be “normalized.”
On May 5, Russia announced it is cutting oil production by 1 million barrels per day for five days due to the decreasing demand for Russian crude in Europe.
However, the issue of oil pollution is not new to Russia and has been reoccurring over the years.