Bellona presents report on offshore oil, and gas development in Northwest Russia

Publish date: December 12, 2007

In the first comprehensive report on the current gold rush for oil in the Arctic, the Bellona Foundation today presented two years' worth of research that culminated in it’s report “Offshore oil and Gas Development in northwest-Russia: Consequences and Implications.”

The report was authored primarily by Bellona’s Russian staff in Murmansk, with help from other Bellona authors in St. Petersburg and Oslo.

Some 50 participants – from local diplomatic missions, to representatives of the Norwegian oil and gas industry, to other environmental organizations and academic institute – were present for the presentation of the reports major points and a discussion session that followed.

Irina Rudaya of Bellona’s Oslo offices, who previously worked in Murmansk, opened the seminar with a discussion of current Russian and international plans for drilling oil and gas in the rich deposits off the Arctic coast of Russia.

Bellona Murmansk’s energy project coordinator Nina Lesikhina delivered a scathing assessment of the non-transparency of Russia’s oil and gas majors and pointed out the tight ties between government in businesss in Russia that make any sort of public dialogue between industry and the population nearly impossible.

“The oil industry, which is characterised by a high degree of nationalisation, information blackouts, and non-transparency, is becoming a political weapon in the hands of the Russian government,” Lesikhina said.

“The majority of deals are concluded between the government and business companies, and the population only finds out about it – if it finds out at all – only after the contracts have been signed. In this kind of information vacuum, it is impossible to guaranteee the participation of society in the decision making process, and correspondingly, to avoid ecologically and socially dangerous projects.”

Oil and gas development project in northern Russia are taking place in complex natural and climactic conditions. The lack of knowledge, experience and technical work in the Arctic increase the environmental risks by many times.

Olga Krivonos, a lawyer with Bellona’s St. Petersburg offices, drew attention to the lack of Russian legislation governing underground land use. She also discussed that those companies that are responsible for oil spills and pollution in general are fines at such minimal rates that it is, in fact, profitable for them to continue working under their currently dangerous conditions as there is no government-led impetus for them to change their technical behaviour.

“That Russia signed the Espoo Convention negatively impacts on Russian legislation and significantly reduces the rights of Russian citizens,” said Krivonos. The convention on “the evaluation of the impact on the environment in a trans-national context” halts the rules of international cooperation on projects whose negative impact can effect neighbouring states. Russia has signed the convention, but has not yet ratified it.

Rudaya, Lesikhina and Krivonos all drew attention to the lack of any kind of public input into the development of oil and gas projects. Krivonos noted that earlier Russian legislation required that public hearings be held in order that large industrial projects could proceed with the public’s blessing.

But last year, new environmental legislation cut out the public altogether, requiring only that the government approve schematics for a given project – thus cutting out the public’s voice and further consolidating the interests of business and government, which in Russia are increasingly one in the same.

Alexander Nikitin, Bellona St. Petersburg’s director, delivered his conclusions on the relationship between the development of Russia’s oil and gas industries and the development of its ailing nuclear industry.

In Nikitin’s assessment, further developments in the nuclear industry would depend on advances in the oil and gas sectors as cash for Russia’s planned nuclear expansion would come from the closely tied government oil and gas businesses. Both developments will continue to threaten the Russian environment.

Wednesday’s seminar was held as part of Bellona’s seminar series on Russian issues that began in 2006. The purpose of the seminars is to create a varied picture of Russia and build inter-disciplinary approaches to environmental and human right problems there.

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