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PlanetArk: Russia Environment Watchdog Adds Gazprom to Targets

RUSSIA: October 19, 2006

MOSCOW – Russia’s environmental agency has added gas monopoly Gazprom’s oil unit to the list of companies to be checked for ecological and technical compliance, the watchdog said on Wednesday.

The agency and its parent, the ministry of natural resources, have said no big oil firm in Russia will be spared from inspections, a move analysts said may be designed to disguise specific targeting of the Royal Dutch Shell-led Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project.
“Gazprom Neft is currently not fulfilling licensing agreements in the following areas: exploration drilling, exploration seismology, oil and gas production,” the agency, RosPrirodNadzor, said in a statement.

A broader inspection of Gazprom Neft will begin on Nov. 21.

The agency said on Monday it was checking compliance at state oil giant Rosneft while last week it said it might withdraw 20 licences from Russia’s top oil producer, LUKOIL.

Environmental officials have raised a number of grievances against the Sakhalin-2 and the neighbouring Sakhalin-1, led by Exxon Mobil.

Analysts say the pressure on the western companies is part of a Kremlin campaign to regain control over these projects, and the threats to Russian companies may be a fig-leaf to enable the authorities to argue they are not singling out foreign firms.

The ministry has listed concerns over Sakhalin-2 including deforestation and damage to the sea around the Pacific island of Sakhalin, as well as sand clogging river beds and the potential for pipeline damage in an area prone to mudslides.

Shell said this week it had resolved almost all the problems that had been raised, but another environmental audit is on the way.

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