The Transneft Pacific pipeline project

Page - 15 December, 2005
Transneft, Russia’s state-owned oil pipeline monopoly, plans to build the world’s longest oil pipeline (4,188 kilometers) to transport oil from western and central Siberian oilfields to the Sea of Japan. Its route will pass Lake Baikal (a UNESCO World Heritage site) at no more than 800 meters and the terminal will be built on the Amur Bay in Primorye, home to the remaining population of 30 Amur leopards. It is hard to design a route that would do more damage.

Risks

The pipeline will cross about 50 large and small rivers, tens of motor and railways, as well as seismically active areas with seismic activity of up to 10-11 magnitude. This, along with passages through high mountain ranges, extreme climate and ecological geographical conditions poses a serious threat to construction, use of the pipeline and the provision of its safety.

The pipe route will cross the largest river of the Baikal basin - Verkhnya Angara River. A rupture of the pipeline and pollution of this river will eventually result in the pollution of the Baikal Lake itself. The route is also going to cross the Amur River, upstream of the Khbarovsk - the place of the only water intake for a city with a population of million people.

The risk of accidents resulting in oil spills is 17 times higher in the Amur Bay than if an alternative terminal site is selected near Nakhodka or elsewhere in south Primorsky Krai. No other region in Russia has such a high density of protected areas. Russia's oldest reserve as well as the only marine reserve are located in Primorye near the proposed terminal site on the Amur Bay.

One of the endangered animals found only in Southwest Primorsky Krai is the Amur leopard, probably the world's rarest big cat with a population of about 30 individuals. The pipeline would run through a wildlife refuge Barsovy and the proposed terminal site is located very close to Kedrovaya Pad, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and important leopard habitat.

UNESCO: the Route is Inadmissible

The recent UNESCO mission proved inadmissibility of the oil pipeline near Baikal. If the planned terminal location is not changed, they will officially recommend the World Heritage Committee to inscribe Lake Baikal in the World Heritage in Danger list. In future, if the Russian government fails to take measures to protect the lake, Baikal can be excluded from the List.

In Defiance of Law

The route of the pipeline runs only 800 m from the unique lake inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage List. This violates the Russian laws and international conventions: law "On Environmental Impact Assessment", Forest Code, Rules of Logging Areas Allocation, Felling Rules, International Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage.

Facts of violations were confirmed by the federal and regional supervision bodies - the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources, divisions of Federal Service for Nature Management Supervision (Rosprirodnadzor), Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Nuclear Supervision, Federal Forestry Agency (Rosleskhoz), etc.

Project Background

2001. Two companies "Transneft" and UKOS plan the construction of the oil pipeline to China or the Far East. Soon after that UKOS quits the project because of problems with authorities.

2003, autumn. Transneft fails to obtain a positive resolution of the state environmental impact assessment concerning the project of the oil pipeline "Angarsk-Nakhodka". The main reason why the project was turned down then was because the pipe was to have crossed the catchment basin of Lake Baikal, a World Natural Heritage Property since 1996, just 12km away from the water edge. Nevertheless, Transneft keeps on working on its project.

2003, spring. The Ministry of Natural Resources of the RF approves a new project of the route on the condition on excluding Baikal. Transneft refuses the project and develops a new one. According to it, the pipeline starts in Taishet and finished at the Perevoznaya bay. Its route is moved to a distance of 80 to 100km to the north from Lake Baikal. The project provides for a considerable length of the pipeline (4188 km), large carrying capacity of the system and, thus, considerable expenses (more than 14 billion USD). To compare: the oil pipeline in Alaska (Transalaska oil pipeline) with more than tree times less length (1270) cost USD 22 billion USD.

Despite fierce public opposition to the project because of other pipeline-related environmental risks and a huge scandal around the state EIA, this new project was approved by the Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Atomic Supervision (Rostechnadzor, FSETAN), an independent governmental agency responsible for environmental protection.

However, in April 2005 Greenpeace learned that Transneft had illegally started surveying activities within the World Heritage Property "Lake Baikal". Under the newest project, in some places the pipe run as close as 1.5-2km away from the lake. This route has NOT been approved by an official Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process.

Under currenty Russian EIA regulations, such a violation means Transneft must stop its illegal activities immediately. Even before the surveying and controversy began, Transneft contractors had felled trees illegally. This fact has been confirmed and recorded by state inspectors. Greenpeace estimates that a 1,000 kilometer strip was deforested. The damage from a randomly chosen cutting of a 180-meter strip reached 261 thousand RUR (about 7.5 thousand Euro).

Being appealed to by non-governmental NGOs in Buryatia and Greenpeace, Rospririodnadzor's Buryatia branch issued an order to stop the illegal activities. However, evidence was found that Transneft and its contractors refused to conform.

On 1 July 2005, a court in Khabarovsk, Russia, ruled the official Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project invalid.

In October President Putin lambasted the ministers for unreasonable delays of the coordination of the pipelined project and criticized Russian environmentalists for creating obstacles for Russia's economic development. Mr. Putin accused NGOs of accepting finance from "competitors," citing the Siberia-Pacific Pipeline Project as his main example. However, NGOs argue for a changed pipeline route, not for cancellation of the entire pipeline project.

November 11 President Putin ordered the Natural Resources Ministry to give up its resistance against the pipeline route. The former project's main opponent made a U-turn in its opinion and rushed to state that he was now "satisfied with the technical measures that Transneft had taken to minimise the environmental risks" and promised to approve the technical and economic grounds draft.

The Scope of the Project

Because of the fast economic development and the growth of the population of Asian countries on the Pacific coast, the general need of the region for energy annually grows 14% approximately. This stimulates the interest of Russian oil companies to the construction of oil pipeline from the Western Siberia (where there are main oil fields) to the Pacific Ocean. This is the oil pipeline that Transneft company is projecting. The pipeline will be Russia's largest federal project to date with total investments estimated at between 11 and 17 billion USD.

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