updated 7/31/2006 10:47:06 AM ET 2006-07-31T14:47:06

A serious oil spill has occurred on one of Russia’s largest export pipelines near the border with Ukraine and Belarus, the Natural Resources Ministry said Monday, warning it could cause an environmental disaster.

The ministry said that oil from the pipeline had contaminated local water sources and forests in the western province of Bryansk, adding that the spill affected an area of nearly 4 square miles.

“Judging by information reaching the ministry from representatives of environmental organizations ... the consequences of the accident may be an environmental catastrophe in the region,” a ministry statement said.

An official from state pipeline operator OAO Transneft, however, downplayed the spill, saying it had only affected an area of 3,875 square feet and had already been cleaned up.

“Now there is no problem,” said Mikhail Sayapin.

The 2,485-mile-long pipeline has the capacity to ship over 1.2 million barrels a day to eastern and central Europe and generally works at or close to its full capacity. It was not immediately clear whether the spill had affected supply to European customers.

Ministry spokesman Rinat Gizatulin said the spill happened on Saturday but only became public on Monday.

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