MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Tatyana Sinitsyna.) - The Federal Nature Management Oversight Service and Greenpeace Russia have accused oil giant Transneft of conducting a secret survey around Lake Baikal under its East Siberia-Pacific project.
Both organizations say that the oil company has illegally begun preparations for laying a pipeline along the northern edge of the world's largest freshwater lake.
A clearing about 180 meters long has allegedly been cut in the forest, and the trees felled left lying on both sides. Both Greenpeace and the FNMOS have called the oil company's actions "ecocide," and estimated the damage at around 260,000 rubles (about $9,100).
Transneft got government approval for its project in November last year after extensive legal wrangling. However, according to FNMOS deputy head Oleg Mitvol, only one document entitled "Grounds for Investing in the Construction of an East Siberia-Pacific Oil-Pipeline System" was approved, and no state environmental expertise was carried out. Shortly afterward, Transneft rejected its original planned route, which ran at least 140 km from Baikal, due to poor terrain, and chose another route much closer to the lake.
It is far easier and less expensive to lay the pipe close to Baikal than in the forest or to have to dig through the hills in the approved area. Even so, the pipeline, at 4,000 km the world's longest oil, is an attractive investment project, and may stimulate economic development in the region. The Japan Bank for International Cooperation has promised $12 billion, while China, South Korea, India and other countries are in negotiations.
Transneft hopes to push across two environmentally protected zones on the way from Taishet to Perevoznaya Bay on the Pacific Ocean: Lake Baikal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a Far Eastern marine biosphere reserve also protected by UNESCO. Pipeline supporters do not care that these plans are in violation of international agreements signed by Russia, including the 1988 UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
The world's largest natural freshwater lake, Baikal contains 20% of the world's fresh water. Its endemic structure is delicate and vulnerable. Due to its unique ecosystem the lake is famous for its unusually clean and wholesome water.
"If the pipeline is laid close to Baikal, all the local sources feeding the lake - and there are thousands of them - will be under threat," said Roman Vazhenkov, coordinator of Greenpeace's Baikal project. Even a small accident would lead to irreversible pollution, which could be fatal for the copepods that tirelessly filter the lake's water.
"An oil pipeline taking Russian oil to the Pacific markets is needed by the state, but this does not mean that Lake Baikal should be spoiled," Mitvol said. "We demand that Transneft should observe Russia's ecological legislation and we hand over the case to the General Prosecutor's Office."