Russia’s environmental safety watchdog to inspect Leonid Alyokhin’s complex for emissions

The enterprise Gazprom neftekhim Salavat is suspected of polluting Bashkiria’s air

Russia’s environmental safety watchdog to inspect Leonid Alyokhin’s complex for emissions
Photo: vk.com/salapo

After numerous petitions from activists and the locals, head of Russia’s environmental safety watchdog Svetlana Radionova tasked the South Ural interregional office with inspecting emissions of Gazprom neftefkhim Salavat until 31 December 2021. Specialists of the office must daily do tests in Salavat where the enterprise is located. Tatarstan’s honourable chemist, former TANECO manager Leonid Alyokhin recently chaired the petrochemical company with one of the country’s largest oil refining and petrochemical production facilities. Read more in Realnoe Vremya’s report.

Enterprises don’t reduce emissions

Head of the South Ural interregional office of Russia’s environmental safety watchdog Roman Bolotov said that the air on the territory of many large enterprises was checked regularly. However, during bad weather, plants reduce emissions just formally.

According to the watchdog, first-degree adverse weather conditions have appeared in Ufa since early 2021 when harmful substances couldn’t normally spread in the atmosphere 84 times. During these periods, enterprises must reduce emissions by 15-20%. Second-degree bad weather conditions, during when emissions fall by 20-40%, have been registered 115 times. In Salavat and Sterlitamak, 85 first-degree and 115 second-degree adverse weather conditions have been registered since the beginning of the year.

“During control and supervisory events, we found out that the projects on maximum allowable emissions that were developed and spelt out algorithms of their decrease in case of adverse weather conditions were on paper and there was in fact no reduction in emissions,” Roman Bolotov noted. “Also, supervisory activities with the Centre for Laboratory Analysis and Technical Measurement and public organisations took place in Ufa, Salavat and Sterlitamak from 14 October to 4 November. Analysis of the population’s complaints showed that they mainly were received from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., therefore the control was done at night. During the mobile lab’s operation, rises in the allowed emission level were registered in all big enterprises. We started to inspect them, nowadays the inspection of Gazprom neftekhim Salavat is coming to an end where a bunch of violations has been found.”

Roman Bolotov said that the air on the territory of many large enterprises was checked regularly. Photo: Valery Shakhov/bashinform.ru

A video published on social media with a flare tower of Gazprom neftekhim Salavat emitting black smoke into the air became one of the reasons for the inspection. The enterprise explained the incident by the fact of testing the production in a new complex:

“We started the final stage of start-up and commissioning in a new catalytic cracking complex in late November. When the equipment was tuned and the complex started to operate normally, particularly, when the wet gas centrifugal compressor was launched for the first time, a part of the gases was temporarily emitted into the flare. As a result, intensive smoking was seen. This is conditioned by the composition of the gas that was burnt: this gas consists of a mixture of so-called unsaturated hydrocarbons, which partly produce soot when they are burnt, not carbon dioxide like when burning saturated hydrocarbons. Consequently, these products create the dark smoke. Flare gas combustion is a controlled process and an indispensable part of launching operations. On 24 November evening, the compressor was put into operation, the emission and combustion in the flare stopped.”

The press service of the enterprise also paid attention to the fact that the new catalytic cracking complex would improve the environment on the production site and become one of the stages of promising development of oil refining in the company.

The new catalytic cracking complex would improve the environment on the production site. Photo: salavat-neftekhim.gazprom.ru

“Nowadays the compliance with the regime will stop the enterprise”

At the same time, Salavat citizens don’t share the optimism. Complaints about chemical smells from here are received regularly. Former worker of Gazprom neftekhim Salavat Mikhail Protasov noted that it was very hard to follow the regime of adverse weather conditions with the current infrastructure of the enterprise:

“I worked at Gazprom neftekhim Salavat myself, the regime of adverse weather conditions was never followed, in fact, we worked as usual. But I will say in defence that if the regime of adverse weather conditions is followed, most shops cannot run, all scheduled repairs will go off schedule because equipment steam cleaning is prohibited in such a regime, consequently, the preparation for a repair is not allowed. It is necessary to improve the environmental component of the enterprise, then the regime of adverse weather conditions can be followed. Nowadays the compliance with the regime will stop the enterprise.”

Mikhail Protasov believes that only expensive equipment modernisation can fix the situation.

“The obsolete gas flare system is one of the main reasons. Pressure in the intershop system falls below 0,5 kgf/square centimetres, consequently, everything that didn’t go to the flare goes to the gas flare. The same happens in the gas fractionating unite, the cleaning and product reuse system doesn’t almost work because it is cheaper to burn than reuse. In general there are a lot of problems at Gazprom neftekhim Salavat that can be solved, but huge money injections for modernisation are needed.”

Honourable chemist and ex-TANECO manager Alyokhin who comes from Tatarstan was recently introduced to the staff. Photo: salavat-neftekhim.gazprom.ru

It seems that new head of Gazprom neftekhim Salavat Leonid Alyokhin will have to sort out the claims of Russia’s environmental safety watchdog and modernise the production. Honourable chemist and ex-TANECO manager Alyokhin who comes from Tatarstan was recently introduced to the staff.

“Our Russian environmental safety watchdog is fooling around”

Russia’s environmental safety watchdog Chairman of Bashkortostan’s Ecologists’ Union Alexander Veselov said in a talk with Realnoe Vremya that the situation in Salavat and neighbouring cities required special attention.

“Salavat is Bashkiria’s most polluted city, precisely from the perspective of air pollution. Huge emissions come from this enterprise, the city is located low, in a kind of pit where residues accumulate, it is poorly ventilated. Consequently, there is constant smoke there. At the same time, not only the city of Salavat itself but also both Ishimbay and Sterlitamak suffer. About half a million citizens are affected by the emissions of Gazprom neftekhim Salavat. It is only one of the sources, of course, both Sterlitamak and Ishimbay have oil companies, oil refining, and a huge landfill in Sterlitamak emits a big amount of residual gases.”

The chairman of the Ecologists’ Union believes that local specialists of the watchdog worked inefficiently, for some reason they didn’t use the leverage they had over large enterprises.

“In fact, our South Ural office doesn’t take measures to protect the air. In particular, Bolotov reported at a meeting of the State Council that they imposed 1,5 million rubles of fines. Firstly, it is a big question if these fines have been imposed and the money has been received. Secondly, such big enterprises as Bashneft, Gazprom neftekhim Salavat just pay fines and keep working. The fines are small, 100,000-200,000 rubles is a trifle for them. Do they use such methods of influence as the shutdown of the operation of some shops, some units, some enterprises for systematically violating air protection legislation? We have such an article in the Code of Administrative Offences, Russia’s environmental safety watchdog has such power. Why don’t they use it?” Alexander Veselov wonders.

Earlier, Roman Bolotov claimed: “The shutdown is possible only after the court’s rule, we launch such an initiative for some enterprise, but the court decided to replace this measure with a fine.”

At the same time, the chairman of the Ecologists’ Union is surprised that the director of the South Ural office of the watchdog cites court decisions that are favourable for enterprises:

“Our Russian environmental safety watchdog is fooling around, to put it mildly. ‘This isn’t us, it is the court.’ What do courts have to do here? They can skip the court, why don’t you hand over the materials to law enforcement agencies to open criminal cases? I ask him how many cases they have handed over, no answer. How many shutdowns were there? Silence, nothing. It is just negligence, they don’t fulfil their functions. If all four types of sanctions I have talked about are imposed, it is the shutdown, handover of materials to open criminal cases, disqualification and claiming money to compensate for the damage according to a new method. Plus, the fifth sanction is fines, this will be enough to normalise this policy,” Veselov is convinced.

Emil Ziyangirov
Bashkortostan