Proposed Sakhalin pipelines seen as threat to endangered whales

Apr 17, 2004 02:00 AM

Campaigners from Russia, Japan and Europe carried a 20-foot mock-up of a grey whale to the office of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to protest the construction of oil pipelines in the feeding grounds of endangered whales.
The EBRD is considering a $ 150 mm loan for the Sakhalin II project off the Russian coast. The project aims to lay four pipelines to transport oil and natural gas extracted under the Sakhalin I project to mainland Japan. The $ 10 bn project has been proposed because of treacherous weather and sea conditions that are making transportation of oil by tankers difficult.

But environment campaigners say the four proposed pipelines threaten the last remaining 100 grey whales. Of these they say only about 20 are females that could reproduce. The project could mean extinction of the grey whale, they say.
"Those pipelines would go directly through the crucial feeding grounds for whales," Greg Aitken from the CEE Bankwatch Network told. CEE Bankwatch Network is a leading non-governmental organization engaged in environmental issues in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE).
"We have handed EBRD a strong letter of protest ahead of their annual meeting during which the proposal would be discussed," Aitken said.

The project is being led by the British company Shell which has a 55 % stake in it on the Russian island Sakhalin. The two Japanese companies Mitsubishi and Mitsui also have an interest in the project. The Sakhalin projects would be between them the biggest ever integrated oil and gas projects, and would create the biggest LNG processing plant.
"The Sakhalin Project poses a very real threat to the last remaining Western Pacific Grey Whales," Friends of the Earth Campaigner Nick Rau said. "The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, funded from taxpayers' money, should not be supporting such a project, which not only threatens an endangered species, but also poses a threat to the livelihoods of the fishing community on Sakhalin."

Dmitry Lisitsyn, chairman of Sakhalin Environment Watch said: "Shell promised that it would improve our local economy and minimize damage to the environment by operating to the highest standards. But we can already see that these promises have been broken."
The project is damaging the environment, and "our wild salmon spawning rivers are under extreme threat," he said. "People on the island have already made their objections clear, but the company is pushing ahead. The bank must not provide funding until environmental protection has been guaranteed."

The EBRD has not taken any decision yet "and we will not take any decision unless we have all the necessary information whether the project complies with our environmental policy," Richard Wallis from the EBRD told.
"We share many of the concerns of these protesters," Wallis said. "We are taking a lot of action to consult international whale experts so that we can form our own opinions on measures to mitigate potential impact." The EBRD has clearly not ruled out finance for the project either.

The tiny salmon could turn out to be the bigger problem for people on the island. About one-third of Sakhalin's population comprising half a million live off the salmon as food and commercially.
A spokesman for Shell said there had been "no discernible change of behaviour in or impact from our operations on the grey whale" since operations began in the area in 1999. But local environmentalists say there are fewer grey whales around, the ones surviving are skinnier. Given the relatively small commitment from the EBRD the bank is unlikely to be able to stop the project even if it were to refuse a loan.

Source: IPS/GIN
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