Chechnya, Dagestan and Krasnodar: how oil refineries generate protests

Resident of Grozny told about a secret oil refinery in his letter to the “Caucasian Knot”. Photo by the “Caucasian Knot”

For more than 10 years, in an outskirt of Grozny, a secret oil refinery has been operating. It is situated at the exit from the Zavodskoy District of the city in the direction of the dwelling settlement of Andreevskaya Dolina. This was reported in a letter sent to the "Caucasian Knot" by one of Grozny townspeople. Residents of other places of Russian South – of the city of Tuapse and Dagestani countryside – told about their personal experience and consequences of living close to oil refineries.

The "Caucasian Knot" receives, on a regular basis, complaints and appeals via e-mail, the feedback form, and the edition's Telegrams and WhatsApp channels. However, on September 25, a letter came from Grozny by traditional "paper" mail to our address: an envelope inscribed by an uneven hand and signed with a pseudonym, with a page of typewritten text inside. The anonymity is understandable – in Chechnya, complaints about socially relevant topics are fraught with consequences not only for the author, but for his/her relatives. The subject of the letter was a 10-year-old story of operation, close to a residential area, of an underground oil refinery, which, however, is not trying to hide from anyone.

"Literally 300 meters from residential buildings and 50 meters off the asphalted road, some strong guys built a refinery, which is 'cooking' petroleum products day and night," writes the author of the letter to the "Caucasian Knot"; let's name him Idris.

"I can't judge about [the volumes] of such 'cooking', since strangers are forbidden to come there. But at my work, I travel by the place every day, and I see huge cisterns and a large number of KamAZ trucks and other vehicles, driving in and out, and bringing and taking away oil products," Idris writes, adding that "there is an unbearable stench around the facility."

"It is important to understand another thing: where do the facility bosses get oil for processing... And don't they care about the health of ordinary people?" Idris asks.

Oil refinery with armed securities

Judging by the data of the "Yandex-Maps" service, there are no industrial facilities in the place indicated by the resident of Grozny. The "Caucasian Knot" correspondent went to the venue to verify the information.

  • 1Entrance to the territory of the oil refinery
  • 2Territory of the warehouse of the reinforced concrete items
  • 3Earth embankment hiding the territory of the secret oil refinery

It turned out that the oil refinery without any identification signs is located to the right of the highway at the exit from the Zavodskoy District towards the Andreevskaya Dolina, about a kilometre from the dwelling village.

Over the embankment, an oil pipeline can be seen. Photo by a special correspondent of the “Caucasian Knot”

The refinery territory is hidden behind a high embankment, where there is one entrance from the highway. Pipes and a line for pumping petroleum products are visible. There are railway tanks in the territory of the secret oil refinery; the exact quantity of them is unknown, local residents told the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent.

According to their story, about five years ago "there was no embankment around the facility; and oil was spilling along the highway." Armed securities are permanently on duty in the territory of the oil refinery, local residents have added.

Cars are parked near the trading warehouse not far from the oil refinery. Photo by a special correspondent of the “Caucasian Knot”

From the side of the city, a small open warehouse of reinforced concrete items is directly adjacent to the refinery. About 300 meters away, there are private swelling houses. Some of them are in the construction process; others have been inhabited for a long time. At the same distance from the refinery, there are a cafe, a fuelling station and offices.

Structures located some 200-300 meters from oil refinery. Photo by a special correspondent of the “Caucasian Knot”

“SanPiN? Register of refineries? No, I’ve never heard…”

Construction of factories and other enterprises is regulated by the Sanitary and Epidemiological Regulations and Norms (known as SanPiN) No. 2.2.1/ "Sanitary Protection Zones and Sanitary Classification of Enterprises, Structures and Other Objects", Natalia Bayanova, a lawyer of the "Consulting Partner" Firm, told the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent.

According to her version, "the placement of an oil refinery near residential houses is a serious violation."

"Point Five of the above SanPiN states that each enterprise should be surrounded by a sanitary protection zone, where residential houses, recreation areas, resorts, sanatoria, horticultural associations and sports grounds are not allowed," Ms Bayanova said.

According to her story, the size of such zones for hazardous industrial facilities is determined by the Chief State Sanitary Officer of Russia with account of the conclusion of the "Rospotrebnadzor" (the Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing), sanitary standards and risks to human health.

According to the above SanPiN, the sanitary protection zone for an oil refinery should be at least 1000 meters wide.

"To start an oil refinery, one should not only register a legal entity and fix it at taxation authorities, but also to register a hazardous production facility in the state register of the Ministry of Energy of the Russian Federation," Natalia Bayanova has explained.

According to her story, the above state register is run by the "Rostekhnadzor", which has its branches in every region. An oil refinery must receive a license from such branch.

The state register is publicly accessible on the Internet – on the official website of the Ministry of Energy. However, a user not keen in online surfing will have difficulties in finding it: the link to the register on the web page is immersed into special terminology and technical information, and only after navigating through it, you can reach the list containing 82 oil refineries.

As it turned out, the register not only lacks the enterprise, about which the above Idris, a resident of Grozny, has complained about; the list has no oil refineries located in Chechnya whatsoever. By the way, there are only two Dagestani refineries on the list – the Makhachkala LLC "Dagnotekh" and the CJSC "Kaspij-1"; the Tuapse Oil Refinery is also present in the register.

The conclusions, made by the "Caucasian Knot" after studying the register, were confirmed to the correspondent thereof by Inna Shkarbanova, an expert of the Ministry of Energy of Russia for the oil and gas complex.

"There is no such oil refinery (located in the Andreevskaya Dolina, – note of the "Caucasian Knot") in our register. We don't know that there is such a facility there. If it works illegally, the 'Rostekhnadzor' should deal with this fact," Ms Shkarbanova has stated.

In her opinion, it is the Federal Service for Environmental, Technological and Nuclear Supervision ("Rostekhnadzor") that is in charge of controlling operation of oil refineries.

Residential neighbourhood to oil refinery: Tuapse's negative experience

Evgeny Vitishko, an ecologist and an oil engineer by education, told the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent about the neighbourhood of apartment houses with the oil refinery in his native resort city of Tuapse. Here, the sanitary zone of the refinery makes 300 meters. In was established as such by the Chief Physician of Russia personally – he has the right to do this by the law.

A multi-storey building close to the Tuapse Oil Refinery. Photo borrowed from the official page of the Tuapse Oil Refinery in the Facebook

Now, under the prescription of the Russia's Chief Sanitary Officer, a continuous monitoring of the condition of soil, air and water should be carried out.1

However, there is no information that the day-and-night air monitoring is ongoing; and the absence thereof is a violation of the law, said the environmentalist. "This is an obligatory requirement for specially protected areas, resorts and medical treatment areas. Tuapse is a resort of local significance," Mr Vitishko has added.

"In the production process of petroleum products, mercaptans (organic derivatives of hydrogen sulphide, – note of the "Caucasian Knot") and heavy metals are released," said Vitishko. The concentration of these hazardous substances near oil refineries sometimes exceeds the established exposure limit by a factor of 10. They accumulate in the soil, and then get into water, including the drinking one.

The Tuapse oil refinery has more than once been the subject of conflict of oilers with environmentalists, who in 2011 expressed their concerns about the potential danger of the oil refinery in Tuapse. Then, the "Rosneft" Company decided to upgrade the facility.

According to Vitishko, the Tuapse Oil Refinery is located amidst a densely populated area of the city; and local residents have repeatedly raised the issue of its relocation.

According to his information, in 2010, after a rally of citizens who demanded to stop polluting the air and the sea, the then Governor Tkachov ordered to set up an environment monitoring system; and a laboratory was built, and equipment was brought in.

However, as Evgeny Vitishko has added, there are serious doubts that the laboratory is duly operational, since there were problems with its accreditation and staffing. "Stationary posts for round-the-clock automatic monitoring were set up; and now the monitoring is conducted by the departmental (in-house) service," he has added.

Neighbours of Tuapse Oil Refinery state oncology splash

Marina N., a Tuapse resident, lives in Koshkin Street, one residential block from the local oil refinery. According to her story, in close proximity to the refinery, there is a large residential area, as well as a kindergarten, a school, a polyclinic and a shopping and the "Red Square" Shopping-Entertainment Centre.

According to her story, the school is located about 700 meters from the refinery, and the residential area is right behind its fence. "It's about 200 meters off the refinery. The chemical smell is terrible all the time; we already don't feel it, but strangers who come immediately feel it. I have two children, and both asthmatics; my neighbours have a boy – he also suffers from asthma. Many people have allergy," Marina told the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent.

She has added that for several years residents have fought for the transfer of the refinery outside the city, or demanded to resettle them away from the hazardous facility. "We have very old houses; they were built together with the refinery in the 1920s; we demanded to build new houses and resettle us, but we still have to live here," the woman said.

"We live like on a powder barrel. This year, three neighbours of mine died from oncology diseases," another local woman has told.

An oncologist at the Tuapse District Hospital told the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent that over the past 10 years, the number of oncology cases registered in Tuapse has grown significantly.

"We note a 30% increase in cancer morbidity; although perhaps because we now have high-precision diagnostic equipment. I think that the growth has to do with poor foodstuffs, bad habits and hazardous ecology as well," said the doctor.

According to his story, respiratory, bronchi and lungs cancers are in the lead among all the fixed oncology cases. "These are generally the most common cancers. At seminars, we meet our colleagues from other cities of the region (Krasnodar Territory); they all note the growth in cancer patients year by year," said the doctor.

Dagestani villagers demand to close oil refinery

On December 22, a rally demanding to close the oil refinery was held in the village of Berikey, Derbent District of Dagestan. Over 800 people took part in the rally.

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The refinery was built in Berikey in 2012. It is a private facility, employing no more than ten people. Villagers said that from the very beginning they protested against the production of petroleum products; however, then, the refinery owners promised them that production would be as harmless as possible.

According to the rally participants, villagers suffer from the smells, which accompany the production of petroleum products. Many villagers associate their health problems with the work of the facility.

In 2015-2017, 463 residents of six dwelling settlements of the Derbent District were diagnosed with oncology diseases, Rashid Abdulov, the Chief Physician of the Derbent District, told addressing the rally. "Five percent of them live in Berikey. Given the fact that we have large dwelling settlements [in the district], this figure is also large," he said.

Doctor Abdulov also released the data of the obstetrics service, according to which during the year a high level of anaemia in pregnant women was registered in Berikey against the whole Derbent District – in 38 women out of 40. "That is, almost in all of them; besides six cases of the foetus congenital anomaly were fixed in six settlements of the district, four of them in Berikey," the chief physician has stressed.

Of course, to establish an unambiguous link of residents' diseases with the operation of oil refineries, more than one research is needed, as well as conquering more than one bureaucratic barrier, and, perhaps, litigations. A rare resident would have enough health and commitment to pass through all that.

For those who are "lucky" to live near a working oil refinery in Chechnya, complaints addressed to the authorities may be much more expensive than their disordered health. Recently, a number of resonant scandals have occurred in the republic, when the complainants themselves were punished. One of the most striking cases was the story of Ramazan Djalaldinov, a resident of the village of Kenkhi, who was persecuted for complaining to Putin and Kadyrov about the difficult situation in the village and bureaucratic arbitrariness. What happened to him later, read in the material of the "Caucasian Knot" entitled "How Ramazan Djalaldinov risked complaining to Putin and Kadyrov".