When petroleum products cease to be a source of environmental pollution


The hearing of the Krasnoyarsk Territory Court of Arbitration on the case of the fuel spill in Norilsk has been postponed once again, this time, until December 24. It is not yet clear what the verdict of the judges will be and when it will be announced, but according to Rospotrebnadzor, the damage caused to the environment as a result of this accident amounts to 148 billion rubles.

However, whatever sum the company-owner of the ill-starred CHP-3, where about 15 or 20 thousand tons of diesel fuel poured out, would have to pay in the end, it will not fully compensate the environmental damage inflicted to the Arctic. Part of the contamination will definitely stay in the water and ground; another part will evaporate and fall out as precipitation.

The saddest thing is that this case, though unprecedented in its scale, is far from isolated. Thousands of oil product spills (OPS) are registered in Russia every year, but they are not perceived by the society as something out of the acceptable limits. People are used to such situations. They occur during oil extraction, its transportation or storage, processing, refueling of cars, pumping fuel into tanks at filling stations. Black oil slicks on the ground or in water bodies in the vicinity of many domestic enterprises are commonplace. They are simply not paid attention to.

In European countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands, there are three gradations used in assessing the purity of the soil. For example, the content of 50 milligrams of petroleum products per kilogram of soil is considered a background level. This is a good indicator. The next grade is 1,000 mg/kg. In the case of fixing such a percentage, the authorities organize monitoring; they are obliged to identify and eliminate the causes of such an unfavorable situation. Five times the ratio (5 thousand mg/kg) is already a serious violation, requiring reclamation.


And what about us? In Russia, there are no unified standards for maximum permissible gross content of petroleum products in the ground. They exist only as some kind of recommendations, and the right of final decision is given to the regions. In the Nenets Autonomous District, for example, the permissible residual content of oil hydrocarbons and products of their transformation reaches 30,000 mg/kg, depending on the soil type and land category. That is, the results of measurements, which in the EU, the USA and many other countries are considered to be clear signs of ecological disaster, do not cause any questions there.

This means that the fixation of pollution, as well as the decision-making to eliminate it, depends in our country not on objective factors, but on the will and upbringing of each individual manager. But it is hard to believe that for all Russian governors, mayors, and factory CEOs, the problem of saving nature is at the top of the list. This is certainly not true.

It is naive to hope that the era of electric cars will come tomorrow or, at least, the day after tomorrow, and no one will need oil. Even according to the most optimistic forecasts of ecologists, the consumption peak will come no earlier than 2028. But in fact, we will pass it much later, somewhere in the middle of the century.

The fact is that motor transport accounts for less than half of the global demand for black gold. And even if cars with internal combustion engines become less popular in a decade, their place in the queue for fossil fuels will be taken by petrochemical companies that make plastics, fabric, polyethylene, car tires, detergents, and other popular products.

So the problem will not go away on its own. In order to drastically reduce the pollution of the environment with oil and petroleum products, effective measures must be taken immediately. First of all, federal legislation must be tightened to regulate maximum permissible concentrations of NP in soil and water, as well as the terms of administrative and criminal penalties for their violation. And, of course, we must work harder to improve technologies that make the process of containment and elimination of contaminants more effective.

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“The process of cleaning soils is often implemented by means of high-temperature combustion, which negatively affects their quality. Therefore, in a number of cases, it would be useful to apply thermodesorption technologies with low treatment temperature. After all, some types of petroleum products can be eliminated even at lower values, for example, at 150 degrees. Now I am working on determining the maximum concentration of light hydrocarbon fractions in disturbed lands, at which we can achieve complete restoration of their productivity due to this method," says Marina Bykova, a postgraduate student of St. Petersburg Mining University.

Her scientific work is not about large-scale accidents, but about contamination, which is often overlooked because of its insignificance. Gasoline and diesel spills on the ground are quite well absorbed, unlike oil or fuel oil, so it is often difficult to determine visually where a leak has occurred. But here hides a great danger: the consequence of the high permeability of fuel is often its ingress into artesian waters and thus into our water supply system.

The postgraduate of the Department of Geoecology used soil samples from a mothballed field in the tundra, an oil product transshipment complex and a mining company parking lot for her research. The results of laboratory tests in all three cases were positive: the anthropogenic impact on the soil was eliminated.

Today Marina Bykova is starting to simulate a prototype of the thermal unit, to determine the best way to feed and mix soils in this device. In the future, such equipment will make it possible to carry out reclamation activities right on site. In other words, it will save the companies considerable funds which are now spent on the removal of the contaminated surface soil and purchasing of the new one. This means it will increase interest to the very process of liquidation of accumulated environmental damage.

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"The situation with soil pollution in Russia is far from the best. But lately, the management of oil and gas and, to a lesser extent, mining companies, have started to pay attention to it after all. There is also interest in my research. I hope that its results in the future will help to increase the amount of reclaimed land and improve the environmental situation in our country," said the postgraduate.

The research of the representative of Mining University was also noted at the international level. In particular, the scientific journal Environmental Geochemistry and Health of the first quartile, which is published by Springer Science, published her article in English entitled "Assessment of oil contamination of soils in different soil and climatic zones and the method of their cleaning.” It is devoted exactly to restoration of productivity of lands contaminated with light fractions of hydrocarbons at the expense of thermal influence.