BY CAROLINE WRAY:
“My criminal activity—it’s journalism. And I will continue to take it up,” said Denis Sinjakov, a photojournalist and one of 30 Greenpeace activists who were arrested during a protest on offshore drilling in the Arctic, according to the Greenpeace Russia Twitter.
On Thursday, September 26, Sinjakov was denied bail and remains in custody. He and the others face charges of piracy, which can carry a maximum sentence of up to 15 years. Essentially what happened was this: the Greenpeace boat sailed awfully close to the Prirazlomnaya drilling platform—owned by Gazprom, a Russian energy firm—in the Pechora Sea, and a couple of activists tried to climb onto the rig in an effort to break it. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that, while the activists “obviously” aren’t pirates, per say, they have “violated international law.”
22 of the activists are being held in custody for the next two months.
It seems that everyone is fascinated by what looks like a dramatic overstep on the part of Russian prosecutors, and curious to see what, if any, diplomatic effects this will have. It appears though that fewer people have stopped to consider the details of what, exactly, the activists are so passionate about.
In the past 40 years or so, the oil industry has totally changed the Russian landscape, both literally and metaphorically. Russia is the world’s largest oil producer and exporter of natural gas.
The act of flaring, which consists of essentially burning off flammable gas in the process of oil production, emits a horrendous amount of carbon dioxide and is known to pose serious human health risks, including cancer. In some parts of Russia, exposure is extraordinarily severe, saturating rivers and filling the air.
Activists feel that there is little regulation or control governing oil companies, which leaves dangerous pipelines open to corrosion and perpetual leakage and spilling. In April 2012, the Russian Minister for Nature estimated that 300-500 million liters of oil are leaked into the Arctic through Russia’s rivers every year.
As a point of reference, the infamous BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico was a one-time 780 million liters. This means that, over the course of just three years, the Arctic is being inundated with up to nearly double that amount.
And after this 2010 disaster, the US and Canada grew an increasing wariness of the environmental concerns of Arctic drilling, placing increased regulations on companies. Russia, totally dependent on the oil export (which, in 2011, was 60% of their total) did the opposite, continuing a trend of welcoming offshore drilling.
In 2007, for example, a group planted a Russian flag on the seabed 2.5 miles beneath the North Pole (hmmm…still a little bitter about that whole “moon” thing? I kid, I kid.).
But, seriously, a study conducted in 2012 showed that the Arctic was warming at twice the rate of other regions, and that, within decades, the Arctic Ocean would have ice-free summers.
If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that the reason for the general lack of coverage on the environmental consequences of Arctic drilling might have something to do with the extremely reliant relationship that the United States has with oil, and its dealings with its own Arctic drilling in Alaska.
The United States and Russia can agree on one thing; they both need oil—and a lot of it—to function. The “Arctic 30,” as the Greenpeace activists are now called, are being used to send a message: this is not to be messed with.
Caroline Wray ‘17 is in Jonathan Edwards College. She is a Globalist Notebook blogger on Russia. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.