Sakhalin-2: trip results
The main goal of the trip was to study the Sakhalin-2 project on the ground. The project is operated by Sakhalin Energy company, created by world giants Royal Dutch Shell (55% stake), Mitsui (25%) and Mitsubishi (20%) and is registered on the Bahamas.
The reason for such a big number of participants is the recent decision of the Ministry of Natural Resources to cancel the 2003 State Environmental Expert Review of Sakhalin-2.
On the first day of the trip – September 28, the group sailed to Aniva Bay, which seriously suffered from construction works. WWF-Russia CEO Igor Chestin dived with camera operators to the bottom and later gave the following description of what he saw there: “The part of the bottom in the area of construction works was strikingly different from the rest. It is a moonscape instead of a pebbled bottom covered by large rocks, inhabited by multiple ground species. The bottom is heavily silted, levelled and consists of small clayey particles that make water very turbid. As WWF and our partners have warned, soil mustn’t have been dumped into this shallow bay. Nature will need decades to recover from the damage, but the bay will never be the same again”. Aniva Bay always had the highest fisheries protection designations, which meant that construction works were prohibited here. However, during preparation of project documents in 2001-2002, its status was unfairly lowered to Category 1, which allowed the company to receive permission for construction works. For local fishermen, though, all limitations were left unchanged.
In the afternoon the group visited Dolinsky district part of the ground pipeline, which is currently under construction. Violations discovered by the participants shocked even the most ardent sceptics. The width of the route was from 60 to 160 m instead of 43 m outlined in the project. Two tributaries of the spawning river Ai were completely blocked by soil from landslides. When the positions were compared, it turned out that the route of this part had been changed and shifted by 1.5 km without environmental expert review. Now the route traverses the territory of Izyubrovy regional sanctuary. According to the statute of the sanctuary, pipeline construction is prohibited here. However, as in the case of Aniva Bay, in 2003 Sakhalin region governor made changes in the statute that allowed pipeline laying in the sanctuary. This decision has not even undergone the environmental expert review required by law.
On the second day of the trip the pipeline route was examined from a helicopter. After the examination of about 220 km out of 800 km of the pipeline, it was discovered that the width of the route was exceeded all the way through the mountainous area. Interviews with constructors revealed that they cannot operate their machinery on tracks less than 60 metres wide, while the project restricts their width to 43 metres. That means that the company paid at least 1.5 times less for planning permission and damage to forestry. Accessways not foreseen in the project were built along the whole route. Up to 20% of crossings of spawning rivers led to their factual disappearance because constructors could not stop landslides from steep slopes. In some areas the possibility of changes in beds of crossing rivers is rather high, and so is the possibility of the pipeline wash-out. All the way along the mountainous part of the route, slope dislocation created conditions for erosion and landslides.
Summing up the results of the trip, Oleg Mitvol said: “All warnings of environmentalists have turned true”.
Unfortunately, the government started to take action only now, when Sakhalin nature has already been subject to destruction for three years. However, we can hope that greater damage will be prevented, as oil is not yet flowing in the pipeline. If the government orders the project to be changed, catastrophic oil spills, inevitable in the present conditions, will be prevented.
It’s important to carry through the initiated work. There is already some ground for hope: head of Russian government environmental watchdog Rosprirodnadzor in Sakhalin region was dismissed (he is temporarily replaced by state inspector from the same agency Dmitry Belanovich). Another reason for hope is that from October 2, aerial photography of the route will help to assess the damage.
WWF believes that both Sakhalin Energy company and government agencies are to be blamed for this situation. The company has ignored opinion of environmentalists, underestimated environmental risks of the project, which have already caused negative consequences and has largely deviated from the approved variant of the project. Officials in Moscow and regional administration broke laws to cater to the company: they changed conservation status of spawning rivers, Aniva Bay, protected areas and gave permissions for illegal activities.
The following steps must be taken now:
· Immediately suspend ground pipeline construction;
· Assess the damage caused by the company during the pipeline construction and construction works in Aniva Bay and initiate legal proceedings;
· Start an investigation on illegal decisions of federal and local officials;
· Order the company to make the necessary changes in the project and subject it to environmental expert review, including the information on the location of the oil platform on the shelf;
· Develop and implement a restoration plan for damaged territories and water areas using funds received as compensation from the company.