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. Critics Plan Court Case Against Russian Pipeline Across Asia

Lake Baikal, India.
by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) Mar 06, 2006
Russian scientists and environmental activists announced Monday they would take the country's government to court over a plan to build an oil pipeline to Asian markets close to pristine Lake Baikal.

"The project in its current form cannot be carried out. There is no technical solution that can avoid the danger" of pollution for the world's largest freshwater reserve, said Irina Maximova, an expert on the lake from Russia's Academy of Sciences.

"We absolutely need to go to court," Maximova said at a news conference in Moscow.

Russia's environmental monitoring agency Rostekhnadzor last week gave its go-ahead to the project only after overcoming the fierce opposition of a committee of experts by excluding some scientists and adding others who were favourable to the project, opponents said.

The committee's original members said the planned pipeline route was too close -- 800 metres (875 yards) -- to the lake in an area of high seismic activity, increasing the risk that a rupture could pollute the vast Siberian lake.

Russia's pipeline monopoly Transneft admits 4,000 tons of oil could spill into the lake if there is a break but says sufficient environmental safeguards are in place.

Work on the pipeline, intended to transport Russia's oil reserves across Siberia to lucrative Asian markets is set to start in July 2006.

Committee experts came under pressure and were threatened with the loss of their jobs, said Gennady Chegasov, another member, who has worked as a consultant on major Russian energy projects, including the massive Blue Stream natural gas pipeline under the Black Sea.

Four experts opposed to the project were excluded from the group and other scientists with no background in the oil sector were added in order to get the two-thirds majority needed to approve the project, Chegasov said.

Roman Vazhenkov, an activist from the international environmental organisation Greenpeace said Russia was not respecting its international obligations linked to Lake Baikal's status as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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