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Russia Muzzles Experts Critical Of Oil Pipeline To Asia

Illustration only
by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) Jan 30, 2006
State-sponsored Russian environmental experts warning that a planned oil pipeline could pollute the pristine Lake Baikal in Siberia complained Monday of "colossal" state pressure to drop their objections.

"The members of the expert committee have signed off on their conclusions: under no pretext should the oil pipeline be built in the basin of Lake Baikal," Gennady Chegasov, head of the State Ecological Expertise committee, told AFP.

But the group "has come under colossal pressure from Transneft," Russia's state-owned pipeline monopoly charged with the project, Chegasov said. The committee's report was submitted to the government last week, but has yet to be approved.

The proposed pipeline would run more than 4,000 kilometres (2,485 miles) from central Siberia to the Pacific Ocean to feed growing Asian markets. Environmentalists say the project threatens the fragile ecosystem in and around the lake -- the world's largest freshwater reserve.

Chegasov, an engineer who has worked on major energy projects, said the route would pass 800 metres (yards) from the lake through an earthquake-prone zone and warned that 4,000 tons of oil could spill immediately in the event of an accident.

The expert said he was turning to the media out of frustration with official responses.

"It's the first time in my life. I'm doing it because I've lost hope and Baikal has to be saved."

Lake Baikal was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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