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RIA Novosti: Sakhalin II water samples expected this week

15:00 | 25/ 09/ 2006 

MOSCOW, September 25 (RIA Novosti) – Water tests near the site of the Sakhalin Energy project off Russia’s Pacific coast are expected this week after the discovery of mass fish deaths, a global environmental organization said Monday.

Dead crabs and fish appeared September 21-22 on a strip of 10 kilometers (6 miles) along the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk, where Shell-led Sakhalin Energy is building facilities for the massive Sakhalin-II oil project, the World Wildlife Fund in Russia said.

“The results of the study of water samples, jelly fish and crabs will be ready by the end of the week,” said Igor Chestin, head of the WWF in Russia.

Last Monday the Ministry of Natural Resources annulled its approval of a 2003 environmental study on Sakhalin II after prosecutors protested the original endorsement, which put in jeopardy contracts with Japan, South Korea and the United States on supplies of liquefied natural gas, due to go into effect in 2008.

The WWF’s Chestin said there had been no storm at sea on Thursday and Friday, and so something else must have caused the crab and fish deaths.

“One possible cause is poisoning by substances in the water, which could have changed the behavior of the organisms and made them leave the water,” he said.

However, Chestin said sometimes maritime fauna threw themselves on the shore for unexplained reasons.

“Sometimes, dolphins throw themselves onto the shore, and no scientific explanation has been given for this yet,” Chestin said. “But fish and invertebrate species can only behave this way if they have been poisoned.”

The $20-billion Sakhalin-II project comprises an oil field with associated gas, a natural gas field with associated condensate production, a pipeline, a liquefied natural gas plant and an LNG export terminal. The two fields hold reserves totaling 150 million metric tons of oil and 500 billion cubic meters of natural gas.

Environmentalists have consistently raised concerns over Sakhalin II, and Chestin said the project could only be implemented after all the ecological violations and risks had been removed.

“I do not see why the biological diversity of the Sea of Okhotsk cannot be preserved and the lucrative oil and gas project be pursued at the same time,” he said.

He said the project could easily proceed but would require heavier investment to avoid causing any environmental damage or disrupting the life of local residents.

In particular, Chestin said Sakhalin Energy, which is controlled by the Royal Dutch Shell and also involves companies backed by Japan’s Mitsui and Mitsubishi, would have to redesign an 800km (500-mile) land pipeline project, which, he said, “poses a tremendous threat to the environment.”

He also said the company must move its oil platform on the shelf to the distance of 6 nautical miles from the coast because the site was a feeding ground for gray whales. Only 100 remain in the world.

Chestin also said after soil had been dumped in the Aniva Bay, the biological balance had already suffered substantial damage and deprived the area of scallops.

As an example of successful project revision, Chestin cited a multi-billion dollar pipeline from East Siberia to the Pacific to pump oil to the Asia-Pacific region, including energy-hungry China.

Under pressure from environmental groups, the pipeline was rerouted in April from its original path, which would have seen it run within 800 meters of Lake Baikal, Unesco-protected and the world’s largest fresh water body.

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