Oil spills from a leaky pipeline have reached two rivers and drenched tundra in Russia's far north, but Russian officials insisted Tuesday the oil posed no serious environmental threat.
Although the size of the spills was unclear, U.S. Energy Department officials said they could range from 4.5 million gallons to more than 80 million gallons. The higher estimate would be eight times the size of the 1989 spill from the Exxon Valdez tanker off Alaska.
The oil extends over the frozen ground like a ribbon about 3 feet deep, 40 feet wide and 6 to 7 miles long, Deputy Energy Secretary Bill White said Tuesday in Washington.
He said leaks from the 47-mile pipeline had "the potential of causing very serious harm to the life of the rivers." The exact extent of the damage was unknown.
White added: "It takes a long time for the Arctic environment to recuperate."
The pipeline breaks have come near the town of Usinsk, about 1,000 miles northeast of Moscow. Workers built a 25-foot-high dike to contain the oil, but the dike broke Oct. 1 after heavy rain. Oil spilled into the Kolva and Usa rivers, tributaries of the Pechora, which flows north into the Barents Sea.
Alexander Avdoshin, a spokesman for Russia's Ministry of Emergency Situations, said the pipeline first burst in February. …