In a telephone call with Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller - who was onboard the Prirazlomnaya platform in the Arctic’s Pechora sea - President Putin reportedly said that the shipment represents a “further expansion of Russia's presence in global energy markets”.
The platform was the subject of a high profile environmental protest in September last year, after which 28 Greenpeace activists and two freelance journalists known as the “Arctic 30” were imprisoned for over two months on charges of piracy and hooliganism.
Responding to the news of the first shipment, Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said:
“This is a defining moment both for the Arctic and the rest of the world. Russia’s state owned energy companies are betting that the Arctic can provide a new source of power and profit for decades to come. International oil majors like Shell, ExxonMobil and Statoil are teaming up with them to exploit this fragile region and shore up their flagging reserves.
If we do not stop this Arctic oil rush we risk not only the environment but our ability to shake off the power structures of the last century. This is not about turning from one source of fossil fuels to another. It is about speeding up the inevitable switch to clean technology while reducing the amount of energy we use overall. Never has the situation been so urgent or the solution so clear.
Greenpeace, alongside millions of our supporters, will continue to stand against any oil company that tries to drill in the melting Arctic ocean.”
The "Mikhail Ulyanov", which will transport the shipment, is a Russian-flagged tanker. A Greenpeace briefing suggests the shipment of heavy crude oil has taken far longer than expected to leave the rig and that the quality of the oil is so poor that Gazprom struggled to find a buyer. There is also evidence that the platform will produce significantly less oil than Gazprom claims. The full briefing is available from Greenpeace (see notes).
Reuters reported that Gazprom initially predicted the arrival of the shipment in late February. No explanation has been given for the delay, but the Arctic’s fierce conditions and heavy ice cover make any kind of industrial activity difficult.
“Despite the President’s celebratory tone, this shipment is very late, it contains very poor quality oil and it poses a huge risk to the pristine Arctic environment. The fanfare surrounding its departure looks more like a PR stunt than a credible new source of oil.”
In March the Dutch parliament passed a resolution calling for the transport of heavy crude to be banned in Arctic waters. The cabinet is now expected to engage at an international level including with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to secure such a ban.
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A full briefing on the shipment and the Prirazlomnaya platform is available at: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/briefings/polar/2014/GazpromFirstArcticOilBriefing.pdf
Putin’s comments regarding the shipment were reported today by Russian news wire ITAR ITASS: http://itar-tass.com/ekonomika/1131537