Russia's environment minister on Thursday blamed Russian-British oil company TNK-BP for causing massive oil pollution in a resource-rich Siberian region and failing to invest in its infrastructure.
"We looked at TNK-BP's activities, because... they operate the biggest share of polluted lands (2,200 hectares/5,435 acres)," Yury Trutnev, Russia's natural resources and environment minister, told Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at a government meeting.
Trutnev had just returned from the Khanty-Mansiysk region where he inspected environmental violations at the Samotlor oil field. On Wednesday he said that he found TNK-BP's environmental policies "poor."
"Pipes should not leak, there should not be oil on the ground," he said after touring the area in a helicopter.
He also accused TNK-BP of "trying to avoid government control" and gave the company one month to clean up the spills from the polluted 2,200 hectares.
The company leaks oil into Russia's mighty Ob and Yenisey rivers, Trutnev told Putin at the meeting, adding that it has plenty of money to rebuild its rusty oil pipe infrastructure.
"They have plenty of financial resources to triple investment and bring their infrastructure to norm in five to seven years," the minister said.
Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko added that TNK-BP spends "practically all of its profit, almost $8 billion" on dividends.
"Eight billion dollars?" Putin clarified incredulously.
TNK-BP, a joint venture between BP and a consortium of Russian oligarchs, was created in 2003 and is the third biggest oil producer in Russia, a precious asset for the British oil giant representing a quarter of its global production.
The company has had its share of frictions with the Russian authorities, however.
Last year TNK-BP's Russian shareholders stalled a landmark Arctic exploration alliance between BP and Russia's state oil producer Rosneft.
The company this week said on its website that it was investing funds to repair infrastructure inherited from the Soviet era, adding that "solving historic pollution problems in this region calls for cooperation of all oil companies."