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Russian Panel Greenlights Contested Siberia Pipeline Plan

Trains or pipes? What will the environmentalists decide...
by Staff Writers
Moscow, Russia (AFP) Mar 03, 2006
Russian experts on Friday gave a green light for the planned route of an oil pipeline despite fears that it could pollute Lake Baikal, the world's single biggest source of fresh water, Itar-Tass new agency said. A commission created by Russia's federal environmental office approved the route which passes near the Siberian lake.

This is a reversal of its own decision just a month ago to give the project the thumbs down.

Vera Bakasheva, a spokeswoman for Greenpeace, condemned the move.

Earlier, a member of the commission told AFP that its members were facing pressure to overturn their previous decision.

The pipeline project, spearheaded by the Transneft company, is seen as a crucial way to step up exports of Siberian oil to the booming Asia-Pacific market. Construction is expected to begin in July.

Ecologists warn that oil could spill into Lake Baikal if the pipeline ruptures, and have pointed to risks linked to the region's seismic activity, human error, attempts to steal oil or terrorist attacks.

Earlier this year, one of Trasneft's vice-presidents, Sergei Grigoryev, admitted to AFP that a break in the pipeline could pour some 4,000 tonnes of oil into the lake.

Transneft officials subsequently said that the company would use piping which was three times thicker than the regular nine millimeters (0.35 inches).

Baikal was classified by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site in 1996, but could be shifted into the endangered site category due to the pipeline, officials at the world body said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

related report

Russian Ecologists Say Pipeline Endangers Lake Baikal Moscow, Russia (AFP) Mar 03 - Dozens of Russian ecologists demonstrated Friday in the Siberian city of Irkutsk against plans for an oil pipeline which they say could pollute Lake Baikal, the world's large fresh water reserve, the ITAR-TASS news agency said.

It quoted environmental activist Alexei Petrov as saying the inhabitants of Siberian communities including Irkutsk, Severobaikalsk and Slyudyanka were all dependent on Lake Baikal for drinking water.

"If there is a spill from the pipeline -- which not even the planners rule out -- oil will flow into the lake causing a health hazard to inhabitants," said Petrov, of the environmentalist group Otkrytaya Rossiya which organised the demonstration.

Official Russian experts said in January that Lake Baikal, which the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) has classified as a world heritage centre and is home to a rich variety of plant species, was seriously under threat from the planned Siberia-Pacific pipeline near to its shores.

It said as much as 4,000 tonnes of oil could be discharged into the lake if there were an earthquake. But another group of official experts said Wednesday it would be acceptable to construct the pipeline near the lake, said ITAR-TASS.

The plan is for some sections of the 4,000-kilometre (2,500-mile) pipeline to pass as close as 800 metres (yards) to the lakeside, ecologists say. Construction will begin this summer.

The pipeline will carry oil east from Siberian fields to the Sea of Japan. It will be the biggest yet Russian pipeline project, involving investments of between 11 and 17 billion dollars (9.15-14 billion euros.) Situated in south-east Siberia, Lake Baikal is the oldest and deepest lake in the world, with 20 percent of the world's total unfrozen fresh water reserve. Its age and isolation have produced one of the world's richest and most unusual fresh water flora and fauna.

Concern over pollution to the lake has been ongoing for decades. Forty years ago, the Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharaov, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his human rights campaigning, published a book in the west which among other things contained a warning about dangers to the lake's ecosystem due to industrial pollution.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Four consortiums presented bids Wednesday to the Portuguese government in response to an international tender for the development of a giant wind farm project, an economy ministry spokeswoman said.

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