Shtokman, deemed to be one of the largest explored natural gas fields in the world, is a shelf deposit in the Russian sector of the Barents Sea, some 600 kilometres from Russia’s Murmansk, a large regional centre on the Kola Peninsula. Around 23.7 million cubic metres of gas is slated to be produced at the site during each of the envisioned three phases of Shtokman development.
And Teriberka is a settlement on the Kola Peninsula, on the very shore of the Barents Sea, that is projected by Shtokman developers to become home to a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant. There are plans as well to build a local pipeline between Teriberka and Volkhov, near Murmansk, to supply gas to Murmansk and surrounding municipalities. However, a large part of the natural gas produced at Shtokman will be transported across the Baltic sea via the Nord Stream main pipeline, a controversial project under development, which will connect Russia and the European Union for gas deliveries into Western Europe.
The latest public hearing on Shtokman’s environmental impact evaluation report took place in Teriberka on May 14. Yet, in contrast to a similar event in the city of Kola in Murmansk Region, few specialists or scientists were in attendance in Teriberka to offer expertise on the subject, which may explain the lack of any substantive critical discussion of the report at the hearing.
Mostly, locals were in the audience, residents of this small struggling village, where the economic situation has been so dire as to seemingly disaffect the population toward any governmental initiative, while at the same time making them vulnerable to the lure of lucrative possibilities that may or may not be on offer.
“The village is so disadvantaged that local residents are eager to believe almost any promises whatsoever made by [project first phase developers] Shtokman Development AG, which, obviously, is something company representatives are putting to use,” said Vitaly Servetnik, head of the environmental organisation Priroda i Molodyozh (Nature and Youth).
“Of course, all formalities have been taken care of, the hearing has been conducted as it should have been, but the situation with civil society is so bad [here] that most of the hearing’s participants do not even understand the procedure or the meaning of such a discussion.”
As for municipal authorities, Servetnik continued, “instead of defending the interests of the local community, they, in their turn, are also blinded by the hope of getting all those handouts from project initiators.”
Shtokman and local concerns
Despite the fact that most in Teriberka support the Shtokman project, locals still retain a measure of healthy scepticism to balance out the appeal of promises they may want to succumb to. One of the participants of the hearing, a woman who only gave her first name, Tatiana, said: “Well of course we get distrustful of what they’re telling us. They must be hiding something, because it’s just too ideal to be true.”
“Of course, the project will impact the ecological situation in the area,” an eighteen-year-old Teriberka resident told Bellona.
“I don’t believe that everything will be all right, like they say, and I don’t want to work there,” the boy went on, just before a group of adults came up and made him stop talking, preventing the conversation from going any further.
According to Teriberka deputy council chair Yelena Kozhina – during the hearing, this woman kept urging the audience to give a ‘yes’ vote with egg-ons such as “Come on, let’s support the project, is that really such a big deal?” – it will come as no huge surprise to local residents that “we’re being told one thing, but in reality, it may turn out quite differently. But the only thing we fear is depletion of biological resources due to project development.”
Yet, both the anticipated loss of biological resources and the closing-off of fishing areas, as well as foreseeable damage compensations, have all been already considered and provided for.
“One of our points of concern with regard to the [environmental impact assessment report] is that we do not understand how exactly damages have been calculated from the loss of fishing livelihood,” said deputy head of Shtokman Development AG’s Teriberka branch, Nikolai Berezhnoi.
Shtokman and the indigenous peoples of the North
According to Nina Afanasiyeva, who chairs the regional non-for-profit organisation Association of Kola Lapps, local ethnic minorities’ attitude toward the project breaks down into two distinct elements. One of them is worry about the social – and, in general, future – life of a village in a perpetual decline.
“What has been shown today is convincing and impressive. There is hope that things will get better in the village,” Afanasiyeva told Bellona. She added that she believed Gazprom, the Russian gas corporation with the majority holding in Shtokman, would have to abide by environmental regulations and standards in its handling of the project, which is an internationally significant joint venture pursued in cooperation with Norway’s StatoilHydro and France’s Total.
On the other hand, locals, indigenous minorities included, cannot disregard such disturbing prospects as gas flaring at the production site. A similar project developed at the Norwegian field dubbed Snøhvit (Snow White) – a deposit estimated to contain 12 times as little gas as Shtokman – features an almost continuously burning 150-metre flare. Statoil pays dearly for the pollution in environmental fines levied by the Norwegian authorities, but no such fines are provided for in the current Russian legislation.
Environmental impact report gets locals’ approval – basically…
One of the representatives of local authorities who spoke to the Teriberka hearing’s participants was Nina Sukhanova, head of the Murmansk Regional Department for Environmental Supervision at Sea with the Russian Federal Service for Natural Resources Management Oversight (referred to in Russian by its vernacular acronym Rosprirodnadzor). Sukhanova said the Shtokman project was going to remain under the agency’s special and thorough scrutiny.
“We will not only be examining the [environmental impact evaluation report], but accompanying documentation as well,” Sukhanova promised.
“Our opinion is that this project should be supported, it must, of course, be realised,” she said, speaking, apparently, on authority from Rosprirodnadzor.
The Teriberka hearing ended in the same finale as the analogous event in Kola City, its presidium members concluding with an official summation saying: “Hearing participants recommend to approve the planned activity, provided that the remarks and suggestions forwarded are taken into consideration.” The verdict, however, was sealed “by default” – without any discussion or vote taking place beforehand.
Priroda i Molodyozh’s Servetnik gave his own verdict: “That such projects should receive mindless approval born of catastrophic ill-being – this is a frightening diagnosis to have to give to the regime, society, and Russia as a whole.”