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State company Transneft is planning to build an oil-pipe line along the coast of Great Lake Baikal, which is a storage of 20% of world’s fresh water of the highest quality. Lake Baikal existed million years before mankind and now the momentary chase of benefit can destroy the lake in a few precious days. Transneft insists on the project that guarantees annihilation of Lake Baikal despite the obvious contradiction with the tasks of environmental protection, execution of national and international laws, opinion of scientists and society and common sense.
By official estimations from 5 to 10 percents of oil escapes to the environment in Russia. Only one Transneft had about 10-15 accidents on its oil lines this year. The high seismicity of the region adds up to standard possible leaking. The area is one of the most seismically active in Siberia where earthquakes measuring 10 on the Richter scale occur – not a single oil-pipe line is going to bear this. And what is then going to be with Baikal?
A leakage from the pipeline that passes directly along the coast (as close at 800 meters at one point, and crossing 10 major rivers flowing into the lake) can occur due to a slightest crash. In case of such an accident within 20-40 minutes up to 40,000 tons of oil could enter the lake with catastrophic consequences. Academy of Sciences have warned that in this case some 10 thousand square kilometers of the lake (one third of it) would be covered by oil. Nothing alive is going to stay in the water, the surface of which is covered with oil film in 5-8 hours. No emergency service will be able to deal with this breakdown in that short time even if it will arrive on the place immediately.
Lake Baikal is the self-cleaning ecosystem unique by its potential and complexity. For many years it has been studied by limnologists, biologists, chemists and physicists. The scientists are far from understanding all details of the tremendous recreation capability of Baikal. But it is already clear that this capability is connected with an extremely subtle trimming of biochemical properties of endemic animals and bacterias with large masses of water physical properties on different depths – its specific transparency, temperature, salinity, quality of saluted oxygen and its geologic and climatic peculiarities.
The ruthful experience of Baikal Pulp And Paper Mill had shown that changes of the waters physical properties disrupts subtle trimming of chemical communication between Baikal inhabitants and leads to abrupt depopulation of endemic omul and freshwater Baikal seal. After all, Baikal Pulp And Paper Mill dumps “merely but” treated water!
As soon as amount of oil in Baikal will exceed the one that Baikal bacterias can recycle, the irreversible changes of water physical properties will arise. They will disrupt biochemical cycles of Baikal inhabitants, which will make changes of water physical properties even worse and lead to break-in of defense mechanism and death of Baikal – the lake will turn into a catch pit.
People of the Baikal region are trying to defend the lake. More than 60 thousand signatures against the pipe are collected to the moment. Two mass-meetings of many thousands took place in Irkutsk. Moreover, on 21st and 22nd of April meetings were held in Angarsk, Ulan-Ude, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhni Novgorod, Severobaikalsk, Rostov-on-Don and Kazan. Actions were dated to the International Earth Day.
But the government doesn’t want to hear anything about this. Public hearings on the project were held in secret. The state commission of ecologists defeated the bill, but the decision was reversed. The examination has been prolonged for a month, during which new 34 experts joined the commission. The new commission approved the project. Also on this occasion the actual water codex was edited so it won’t disturb the destruction of Lake Baikal.
A group of world’s heritage defenders is fighting with a government monster in isolation from the whole world.
Transneft and the head of the state are in the advantageous position in all spheres: economic, administrative (all state levels have proper instructions), legal (even if the laws have to be changed), informational (the informational blockade is organized well and the world hears only Vainstock and Putin). Vainstock blamed people that stand up for the Lake – people that gathered in one solid unselfish impulse – for anti-national activity. The central TV accused independent organizations of being sponsored by foreign intelligence.
The defenders ask international banks to stop financing Transneft projects and call people from all over the world to give us moral and informational help and support of any kind.
And if the laws can be rewritten for the pipe we head for involving the international human rights organizations. The defenders have no other way to fight except by means of information. The break-through of informational blockade is the necessary condition of victory.

It is the question of life and death of Great Lake, world’s heritage and the future of our children. It claims for drastic solution.
 
 
14 April 2006 @ 02:23 pm
Lake Baikal is in danger!
Help stop the construction of an oil pipeline in a World Natural Heritage Site!

This might be our last chance to stop a project to build an oil pipeline through the Lake Baikal basin in the immediate vicinity of the lake (as close at 800 metres at one point, and crossing 10 major rivers flowing into the lake, and 113.4 kilometres (70.5 miles) of the UNESCO World Heritage Site).

In very dubious circumstances the state organisation responsible for carrying out environmental impact assessments has approved the project of the state oil pipeline monopoly, Transneft. It is likely that only the intervention of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, can prevent the project going ahead before it is too late.

Thousands of signatures have been collected against the project via the Internet (statistics: http://www.babr.ru/truba/, also en English). Thousands more (over 20,000) have been collected in Irkutsk region to a petition to President Putin to call off the project.

In the event of an accident, within 20-40 minutes, up to 4,000 tons of oil could enter the lake with catastrophic consequences. The area is one of the most seismically active in Siberia where, in 1911, the most severe earthquake on Russian territory occurred. Scientists of the Irkutsk branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences have warned that in the case of such an accident some 10 thousand square kilometres of the lake (one third of the lake) would be covered by oil, bringing about the destruction of the major part of the lake’s endemic organisms.

Translated by Baikal Environmental Wave, e-mail: sutton(at)baikalwave(dot)eu(dot)org.

(..to be completed)
 
 
13 April 2006 @ 01:50 pm
Oil Pipeline East Siberia – Pacific Ocean: Overview

The dispute over the Transneft's oil pipeline project named East Siberia – Pacific Ocean (known as VSTO), a part of which is scheduled to pass along the North coastline of Lake Baikal, has come to its final phase.
This project has been opposed by the Irkutsk Oblast Administration and the Regional Legislation Chamber, the People’s Khural of the Buryat Republic, along with scientists working in all scientific and educational institutions of Irkutsk, including the Institute of Earth's Crust and the Limnological Institute.
On March 18, 2006 over five thousand people gathered to protest in Irkutsk; on April 1, pickets in Moscow and Rostov-on-Don were driven away by the state militia.
Over fifty thousand people from Russia and abroad have voted against the project, out of which more than 23 thousand (UPD: almost 25 thousand at present) posted their votes on the Internet. 10 thousand of these signatures were delivered to the Russian State Duma, and 14 thousand – to the President of Russia Vladimir Putin.
On March 28, the Council of Public Chamber of the Russian Federation has accepted a petition on the threat posed to Lake Baikal by the oil pipe line.
On April 9th, another protest event is scheduled to take place in Irkutsk.
On April 18 and 19, 2006, the oil pipe issue will be examined by the Legislative Assembly of the Irkutsk Region.
Federal mass media and press are keeping silence on the protest movement, yet grant attention to the positive side of the project. All criticism against the project is available only on the Internet.

On January 24, the State Environmental Expertise Committee (GEE) has ruled disapproval of the oil pipeline project. The chief of Rostekhnadzor (Technical Control), Konstantin Pulikovskiy (former Pleniponentionary Representative of the President in Far Eastern Federal Okrug), instead of approving the GEE negative resolution, has extended the expert evaluation period for another month and rendered another 34 new experts members of the Commission, as not stipulated by the law “On Environmental Expertise Evaluation”. The composition of the Commission was questionable: No ecologist or seismologist were members, none of the experts ever worked or studied Lake Baikal or its neighboring regions, some never even had any published scientific works.
Without obtaining positive ecological resolution, the Russian Government Chairman Mikhail Fradkov, on January 31, 2006, has signed the enactment to commence drafting and construction of the pipe line.
On February 26 the Commission held its meeting and approved the project. Only 60 experts out of 89 were present, which makes an only 67% composition. In order to grant approval, the positive resolution had to gather 61 votes. From 22 to 25 experts present voted against the project. When 27 experts voted against as opposed by 58 experts, the positive resolution was adopted after the voting by way of expelling four experts, predetermined to oppose the project. Moreover, part of the experts couldn’t physically be able to read all the documentation because they had only 7 days to get acquainted with them due to delay in delivery.
On March 3, the Rostekhnadzor Chief Konstantin Pulikovskiy approved the resolution of the Commission.
The experts’ conclusions were never made public, as well as the project documentation itself.

General objections to the current pipe route are as follows:
First of all, accordance with the project, the pipeline will pass only within 800 m from the north coast of Lake Baikal, crossing a wide nature resource established UNESCO World Heritage site (Ref. No. 754, http://whc.unesco.org/fr/list/754 (in French), http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/754 (in English)), thus violating the international laws and the Russian Law "On Lake Baikal". Moreover, in some areas the beach width does not exceed 30 m, this part being already occupied by highway and railroad. A similar project was presented in 2003, to pass within 12 km from the coast, however it was rejected due to the fact that it was impossible to construct the pipe line in the mountains.
Secondly, the project developers indicate that the pipe line would be separated from Lake Baikal with a railroad embankment, and 60 kilometers of the pipe line will be made out of special steel of excessive thickness (up to 36 mm) with blocking slide valves set up every 5 km instead of every 32 km as compliant to the regular norms. Yet, there is no railroad embankment in the transit area and the higher concentration of slide valves does not eliminate the possibility of a 3 thousand tons oil spill (as estimated initially by Transneft, this figure being later removed from the project documentation). As experts estimate, Transneft has never before used pipes with thickness exceeding 12 mm.
This year, Transneft has already had 8 accidents involving oil spills. In 2005 it had 12 accidents, in 2004 – the figure was 11. Accident risk is estimated at 0,22-0,24 cases per a thousand km, which is more than declared by Semyon Veinshtock, the president of Transneft OJSC (0,04 cases per a thousand km). In fact, in 2006 the accident level has reached 0,16 cases per a thousand km. With all of these facts in mind, the pipe line reliability is highly questionable.
Previously, there was an oil pipe accident on Transneft's pipeline in Irkutsk Oblast in 1992, which lead to an oil spill of over 30 thousand tons. The oil has reached subsurface waters thus depriving Tyret settlement of its own water supply. On January 30, 2006 from a pipe rupture in Udmurtia, an oil fountain 20 m high broke out spilling 3200 tons of oil. As the GEE commissioner I. I. Maximova states, this fact has not even been mentioned by the Transneft representatives.
If we were to consider the capacity of the projected oil collection fleet at Lake Baikal, the project seems to allow for a 180-240 tons of oil spill directly into the lake. Moreover, as experts say, the process losses will reach the lake continuously.
Thirdly, there is a fact that is paid too little attention: Transneft suggests implementing durable pipe-inside-pipe technology with blocking slide valves only for the 60 km of the oil pipe route passing along the coast. However, the pipe is projected to pass along other areas adjacent to the rivers which flow into the Lake Baikal, and no protective technology is stipulated along that part of the route. The pipes are regular, slide valves projected every 32 km. Moreover, this is a strong earthquake zone. From 1950 to 2005 there were nearly 30 earthquake occurrences ranking 4 to 11 on the 12-graded Mercalli intensity scale. Earthquake focuses are clustered around the route of the pipe. The effects can lead to cracks in earth’s crust as wide as tens of meters. Neither pipe thickness nor special steel are able to withstand such occurrences.
The project stipulates protection from earthquakes by setting oil pipes several meters underground, however such protection is meant to withstand the maximum of an earthquake ranking 8 on the Mercalli scale. Still more, the possibility of oil pipe placement into hard rock is highly questionable.
The Russian construction standards (SNiP) prohibit oil pipe construction within territories with seismicity ranking 9 (on the Mercalli scale) and higher. In case pipe rupture occurs within the zone, an immense amount of oil will be spilt because slide valves will be installed only every 32 km under the project. This oil will undoubtedly reach the rivers flowing into the Lake Baikal, penetrate into underground waters, which will lead to water pollution on a large area.
And four, Transneft acts contrary not only to the laws and regulations, but to the common sense of economy as well. An alternative route passing through Ust-Kut, Kirensk and Lensk along the right bank of the Lena River is better from every point of view. Although it is greater in length than the existing project, it can be cheaper due to the absence of necessity to provide for additional environmental protection. The oil pipe thus avoids Baikal’s watershed and the earthquake zone, passing within a considerable distance from the Lena river along planes without crossing mountain ridges. It can be bound with the large river transport system and ports of inland navigation: Ust-Kut and Kirensk. The route passes along large oil deposits, including those ready for development. New oil deposits can be discovered in the region.

The opposition to the current oil pipe project holds the following point of view: The oil pipeline project section route from Taishet to Skovorodino must be reconsidered to bring the pipe out of Lake Baikal’s watershed and the earthquake zone. The optimal project variant could pass along the route from Taishet to Ust-Kut to Kirensk to Lensk to Tynda. The alternative project is supported by the experts, scientists of the Siberian Department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, as well as regional authorities of Irkutsk Region and Buryatia.
The major argument of pipe-backers against rerouting the pipe is possible cost increase and longer term of construction. Yet they never presented any information on the alternative project cost. (UPD: the cost increase is evaluated at about $900,000,000).

Suggestions: It is necessary to influence the head staff of Transneft, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Government Chairman Mikhail Fradkov, the minister if industry and energy Viktor Khristenko, the president of Transneft OJSC Semyon Vainshtok, in order to convince them that the north routing passing through Ust-Kut and Kirensk is economically expedient and profitable, bearing far less threat to the ecology.

Compiled by Dmitry Verkhoturov, Konstantin Hlyzov, Vladimir Potapov. Translated by Dmitry Shulga