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Trutnev Offers Hope To Shell’s Sakhalin-2

Trutnev in Sakhalin.jpg

Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev struck a conciliatory note with Shell's Sakhalin-2 project Friday, saying he was not seeking to shut it down and acknowledging that the operator had made some progress in cleaning up environmental damage."Our job isn't to punish the company, but to see that they continue working properly," Trutnev told foreign news media at a briefing in Moscow after a three-day tour that took him to Sakhalin.

"We will try not to stop the whole project. It all depends on how the company works," Trutnev said. "Let's note some of the good things - on parts of the pipeline, you can see that the company has been trying to restore order." Trutnev has threatened to withdraw an environmental license for Sakhalin Energy, which operates Sakhalin-2. That threat, coupled with similar warnings against TNK-BP and ExxonMobil, has prompted fears of a wider campaign against foreign oil majors.

Trutnev singled out TNK-BP, which has come under threat from the ministry over the pace of development of its Kovykta field in east Siberia. "On the question of well usage, they're the leader in the negative sense," Trutnev said, adding that a decision on the company's environmental license would be made by January.

Under a 1992 agreement, the company is required to supply 9 billion cubic meters of gas per year by 2006, but it has been selling just 2.5 billion cubic meters per year to local markets due to a lack of pipeline facilities.

Trutnev said the ministry had not yet begun an investigation into ExxonMobil-run Sakhalin-1 as it did not have the manpower to do so. "I don't think we can work on two such large projects at the same time," he said.

Gazprom has been in talks to acquire a 25.1 percent stake in Sakhalin-2, and has said it would be interested in buying out the Russian shareholders in TNK-BP if they chose to sell.

Trutnev refused to comment on Gazprom's interest in his investigations against Shell and TNK-BP, saying he followed that aspect of the affair "just from articles in the newspapers." Trutnev began his three-day trip with a short visit to Rosneft-owned Yuganskneftegaz - Yukos' former main production unit - and said he had failed to find any violations there.

"We went with the intention of finding some faults, but we didn't see anything to worry us greatly," Trutnev said. Trutnev's visit to a Yuganskneftegaz field lasted about five minutes, and his spokesman Nikolai Gudkov said the visit was not an inspection but an opportunity for the media to take photos.

Prosecutor General's Office spokesman Alexander Nikonov confirmed Friday that the office would wait to get the results of Trutnev's audit before deciding whether to open an investigation into Sakhalin Energy.

© The St.Petersburg Times

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