Between 1998 and 2013 Russian energy giants Gazprom, Rosneft, Lukoil, Tatneft and several regional companies received a total of 1.67 million hectares of protected areas for gas and oil development, 1.34 million hectares of them - in the Arctic seas. In these violations can be involved international oil companies, who are jointly developing these license blocks – for example, ExxonMobil.
Greenpeace Russia has reported the violations to the Russian General Prosecutors Office demanding to adjust the licenses and improve subsoil use legislation to eliminate such problems in future. The violations have also been brought to the attention of the Russian representative to the Arctic Council, as several cases involve licenses in the offshore Arctic and the Council is responsible for environmental cooperation in this region.
Previously Greenpeace reported of several cases when licence blocks overlap with nature reserves, but after checking all licences issued we discovered that there are as much as 19 federally protected areas under the threat.
Under threat are:
- Eight Federal Nature Reserves.
- Five Strict Nature Reserves (Zapovedniks), including the “Bolshoy Arctichesky" Nature Reserve, a refuge for rare animals like the polar bear, Arctic fox, snowy owl, reindeer and beluga whale.
- Six National Parks, among them famous ones like “Russian Arctic National Park” and “Yugyd Va”.
For example, Rosneft received 4500 hectares inside “Russian Arctic National Park” which includes breeding grounds for rare birds and the habitat of the Karo-Barents polar bear.
While Gazprom got 2500 hectares of “Yugyd Va”, an area of intact boreal forest parts of which are recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
ExxonMobil develops jointly with Rosneft Severo-Karskiy, Severo-Wrangelevsky and Vostochno-Prinovozemelsky license blocks that overlap with Bolshoy Arcticheskiy nature reserve, Wrangel Island world natural heritage site and Russian Arctic national park, respectively.
Allowing oil and gas production areas to encroach on protected areas is a crude violation of Russian Federal Law, which clearly prohibits all industrial activities within the borders of Strict Nature Reserves and National Parks.
In response to Greenpeace claims Ministry of natural resources promised to check the borders of license blocks and change them if the law infringements are confirmed. Currently they report that they are correcting license blocks adjacent to three protected areas in the Arctic: Russian Arctic National Park, Franz Josef Land nature reserve and Bolshoy Arctichesky nature reserve. It is not clear when this work will be completed and if the Ministry is going to do anything about violations in other 16 protected areas.