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Russian Official Demands Shutdown of Sakhalin-2 Pipeline Project

Deputy head of Russia's environmental watchdog Rosprirodnadzor Oleg Mitvol said on Thursday, Sept. 28, that construction of gas pipeline within the framework of Sakhalin-2 oil and gas projects in Russia's Far East must be stopped.

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"Further work to build the Sakhalin-2 pipeline as it has been done to date is inadmissible," Mitvol said, quoted by RIA Novosti. The official added however that he did not demand the overall shutdown of the project.

Russian officials accuse project operator Sakhalin Energy of major environmental breaches, and last Monday the Ministry of Natural Resources annulled the 2003 environmental expert review for the $20 billion project, which is led by Royal Dutch Shell.

Mitvol, who is currently on the island of Sakhalin leading a probe into the project, said the pipeline has to be rebuilt.

"Environmentalists' warnings have become reality. Landslides are taking place along the pipeline route, and a seismological danger exists. These have not been taken into account. Given such building practices, accidents will be inevitable when pressure is built up in the pipe," the Russian official said.

But Mitvol said the consortium running the project would not be stripped of its operating license.

"The destruction of nature does not unfortunately lead to any license-related risks," he said, although he promised to punish the operator.

Experts said the width of paths for each oil and gas pipeline, which are 750 kilometers (about 470 miles) long, exceed the norm by 120 meters (about 490 feet). They also said the boring platform has been installed in the feeding ground of the rare gray whale. Other claims concern alleged ecological violations in the Aniva Bay, at the southern end of Sakhalin. Massive fish and crab kills have been reported in the area, and inspectors earlier established that a Sakhalin Energy vessel dumped a mixture of methylene dichloride and lubricating oil into the bay.

MosNews has reported on Thursday that Russian official estimate environmental damage from the project at $50 billion.

Prior to the revocation of environmental permit, Sakhalin Energy said that accusations about environmental performance are "deeply misleading" and are "based on a procedural argument relating to the internal workings and mandate of component agencies making up the Ministry of Natural Resources."

The possible suspension of the project following the revocation of the environmental review means plans to develop a crucial LNG plant will be delayed, which will put in jeopardy contracted deliveries to Japan, South Korea and the United States, due to start in 2008.

Sakhalin Energy said September 20 this will "lead to significant delay of the project, extra costs and irreparable damage to the reputation of this venture and the Russian Federation as a whole." Japanese officials have already warned Russia that delaying development of the project could serious hamper Russia-Japan relations. The island country counts on LNG deliveries from Sakhalin to fuel its energy-intensive economy. Two Japanese companies, Mitsui and Mitsubishi, are partners in Sakhalin Energy concern together with Shell.

© MosNews

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