#9 - JRL 7069 - RAS 16
ECOLOGY: PIPELINES: OIL AND GAS PIPELINES IN THE LAKE BAIKAL REGION
SOURCES. The Guardian, January 2, 2003; Jennie Sutton, Lake Baikal and the Thirst for Oil (unpublished); A. Bobkov at http://www.baikalwave.eu.org/eng.html
Baikal is a big crescent-shaped lake situated in a rift valley in eastern Siberia. Surrounded by mountains and fed by numerous streams that converge in the Angara River, it is the world's largest reservoir of freshwater (with 20 percent of the total world supply of surface freshwater). In 1996 its unique ecosystem won it the status of a World Heritage site. The threat to this ecosystem has worried conservationists ever since the first pulp and paper mill was built on the lake's shore in the 1960s, giving rise to the first Soviet environmental movement. The Lake Baikal region also boasts other valuable ecosystems, such as that of the valley of the Tunka River -- the "Siberian Switzerland."
The routes of three planned pipelines, two for oil and one for gas, traverse the region:
* Transneft plans a 3,765-km oil pipeline to the Russian Far East.
* Yukos plans a 1,500-km oil pipeline from Angarsk (to the west of the lake, on the Angara River) through the Tunka Valley to Daqing in China.
* Yukos also plans a gas pipeline to China, to be built between 2004 and 2008 parallel to the oil pipeline. This will be an extension of an existing gas pipeline.
The construction and operation of pipelines always entails ecological costs: pollution from leaks, the disruption of habitats, the harm caused by irresponsible short-term workers brought in from outside the region concerned. But in the Lake Baikal region costs will be much higher than usual due to:
-- the difficulty of the terrain: high mountains and deep valleys, flooding rivers, permafrost, marshes, etc.; and
-- the geological instability of the terrain: constant seismic activity (earth tremors and earthquakes), landslides, mud streams, ice flows.
It is therefore "almost inevitable" that there will be not only leaks but also breaks in the pipelines. Yukos admits that in the event of a break in its planned oil pipeline oil will probably reach Lake Baikal -- all routes under consideration cross 59 Baikal tributaries -- before any remedial action can be initiated, perhaps even within an hour. The gas pipeline may not just break but explode, igniting fires. (1)
It seems very unlikely that effective safety features will be incorporated into the pipelines. Such features would greatly raise costs, which will be very high even without them. (2) Both business and government in Russia are "very adept at ignoring" environmental protest, and the environmental law enforcement agency was emasculated by its subordination to the Ministry of Natural Resources one and a half years ago.
Even in the unlikely event that explosions are avoided, the air pollution from the gas pipeline will be enormous. The cocktail includes carbon monoxide, nitric oxides, sulfur dioxide, soot, and hydrocarbons. Officials at Angarsk town hall, which is close to the existing gas pipeline, sometimes have to work in gas masks. Meteorological conditions in the deep Tunka Valley will impede dispersal of the pollutants: their concentration may reach levels so high as to make the valley virtually uninhabitable. National parkland, curative natural springs, and Buryat sacred places will all be in jeopardy.
Supporters of the pipelines claim that local people will benefit from the jobs and tax revenue that the oil and gas companies will bring with them. However, the taxes will be paid to Moscow and there is no guarantee that any of the money will return to the region, while most of the jobs will go to outsiders because local people lack the necessary skills. (3)
The campaign against the pipelines is being waged by the organization Baikal Environmental Wave. One of its leading members is Jenny Sutton, a teacher from England who went to Irkutsk on an exchange program in 1974, stayed on, and acquired Soviet citizenship. In November 2002, Jenny was visited by FSB officers who seized documents and computers. Then her apartment was burgled and her car stolen. The FSB opened a criminal investigation into how the group obtained "secret" maps of the radioactive contamination around a uranium enrichment plant. In fact, they were given the maps by geologists who assured them that they were in no way secret.
But Jenny is sure that the real motive behind the FSB pressure has to do with the pipelines. (4) One of the FSB officers accused her and her friends of "undermining the regional economy."
(1) Besides natural events, breaks and explosions may be caused by defects in construction, corrosion, or pumping under excessive pressure.
(2) The initial estimate for the cost of the Yukos oil pipeline is $bn1.2
(3) Construction of the Yukos oil pipeline will require a workforce of about 3,000. Servicing the pipeline will require about 700.
(4) Personal communication