Military called in to fire artillery rounds at wellhead in Siberia that has been ablaze for nearly a week
A Russian oil company has asked the military to bombard a wellhead fire with anti-tank artillery rounds in a last-ditch effort to extinguish the blaze after nearly a week.
Russian troops will deploy to rural Siberia and fire shells from a 100mm anti-tank gun to cut off the wellhead and allow the oil well to be sealed, Russian state news agencies reported.
Video showed emergency workers in silver protective suits battling a pillar of flame at the Yarakta oilfield in rural Siberia, where the fire has raged for nearly a week after a hose reportedly malfunctioned.
Nobody has been reported killed or hurt, but executives from the Irkutsk Oil Company, a small Russian oil producer, are keen to put the fire out quickly.
Oil well fires are often extinguished using high explosives that disrupt the supply of oxygen to the flames. But approaching the wellhead to plant the explosives can be difficult with temperatures reaching thousands of degrees fahrenheit.
When the regional government convened an emergency meeting on Friday to work out how to put it out, they decided on another solution.
“We decided to bring in the military’s artillery forces who have to shoot at the wellhead for the successful and operational closure of the well,” Andrei Bogdanov, head of production security for the Irkutsk Oil Company, told the meeting.
Russia’s military has said it will immediately deploy troops with an MT-12 Rapira anti-tank weapon and Bogdanov said that the company hoped the fire would be put out by Monday.
The Soviet Union used underground nuclear tests to extinguish several gas and oil well fires in the 1960s and 1970s. It first detonated a nuclear bomb in 1966 to put out an oil well fire at the Urtabulak gas field in Uzbekistan, which was then part of the USSR.
The wellhead fire is not the only widespread industrial accident in Russia. Earlier this week, Vladimir Putin ordered a state of emergency after 20,000 tonnes of diesel fuel spilled into a river inside the Arctic Circle. Images from satellites showed kilometres of the Ambarnaya River turned red by the toxic fuel. The fuel came from a tank that collapsed at a power plant, likely due to melting permafrost caused by global warming. Russian officials have said it could take months or years to clean up the damage to the local ecosystem.