Russian pilgrims looking to indulge in a night-time dip in a freezing lake as part of a traditional religious ceremony have seen high oil levels throw cold water on their pious plans.
A local branch of Russian consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor had to shut down a cross-shaped ice hole on Chyornoye Lake in the Uglegorsky district of Sakhalin Island after the first bathers took to social media to report “black oil stains” on the water's surface.
The nocturnal plunge into frigid waters is a popular tradition for Russian Orthodox Christians celebrating the Epiphany on 19 January, which commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan.
Preliminary analysis of three water samples taken at the ice hole showed the presence of “petroleum products" of which concentration volumes "exceeded maximum permissible levels”, the watchdog said.
To the disappointment of local pilgrims and clergymen who have travelled to the lake from far and wide in recent years to take part in the midnight plunge, their plans were dashed on the eve of the ceremony — scheduled for very early morning hours on 19 January.
The watchdog told local authorities to “arrange ice hole swimming in any other safe location” and, although a new hole was hurriedly prepared on the nearby Nadezhdinka river, public access was only opened the day after the celebration.
If that was not enough to test would-be bathers' fortitude, local reports indicate there was a large accident involving coal-bearing trucks, which blocked the road leading to the new ice hole location, turning many pilgrims off making the trek.
Perhaps some religious Russians may be tempted to see the whole escapade as a sign from above that the country should embrace cleaner energy sources.
Authorities in Moscow have repeatedly flagged up oil and gas-rich Sakhalin Island as a prime testing grounds for Russian-led renewable energy initiatives, including a first hydrogen-powered train and hydrogen export projects.