MOSCOW - February 1 - Greenpeace activists protested at the headquarters of a Russian
government agency today, accusing it of trying to silence its own
environmental experts who are opposed to plans for the world's biggest
oil pipeline, scheduled to be built through a World Heritage Site around
Over 80% of the experts, commissioned to assess the environmental impact
of building the 4,200 km pipeline, rejected the proposal because of its
proximity to one of the world's most fragile ecosystems, Lake Baikal -
which has been a World Heritage Site since 1996.
The environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the proposed pipeline was
commissioned by Russia's Federal Service for Ecological, Technological
and Atomic Supervision in November 2005. The agency convened a panel of
52 top Russian scientists, who delivered their assessment on 24th
January 2006. 43 out 52 of them signed a statement concluding that the
pipeline would have a negative impact, highlighting that it would be
built just 800 metres away from Lake Baikal, and poses "a great
potential danger to the lake".
Following these conclusions, the agency was expected to issue a special
decree endorsing the results of the assessment, and blocking
construction of the pipeline. However, the agency has failed to publish
the decree and a number of the scientists on the panel have now
complained that they have been pressured into changing their mind and
approving an immediate start to construction.
"We are receiving phone calls asking to think twice before going public
with the outcome of our work. In the meantime, the Federal Service is
using loopholes in the Russian legislation to block the negative
conclusions", said one of the experts.
Experts claim that the agency is now recruiting more scientists in a bid
to change the conclusions of the panel. Speaking at a Greenpeace press
conference, one expert said "Issuing a decree approving the EIA is just
a bureaucratic formality, and the law does not bind the Federal Service
to sign it. However, it says the Federal Service can hire additional
experts to reach a decision, this time in favour of Transneft, while
blocking the negative conclusion".
The so-called 'Pacific Pipeline' developed and promoted by the Russian
state-owned oil transport monopoly Transneft is going to become the
largest pipeline project in the world. With its total length of 4,200
kilometers, annual capacity of 80 million tons of oil and the total cost
of up to 18 billion US dollars, the pipeline is three times as long and
the Alyeska pipeline in the United States.
Roman Vazhenkov, Lake Baikal Campaign Coordinator of Greenpeace
commented "We want to show our support to all experts who are not giving
in to the pressure and urge the Federal Service to approve the negative
conclusions of the state EIA signed already by the overwhelming majority
of the experts. At stake is Lake Baikal and the future of Russia as a
Under existing legislation, the deadline for the agency to issue the
decree is February 3rd, 2006, but sources within the Federal Service say
that the approval process may not be completed until April.