Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Pipeline risk to Siberia wildlife.
By Sarah Rainsford BBC News, eastern Siberia, Russia.

Leopards have already disappeared from North Korea and China. Seven time zones east of Moscow is one of the most protected areas of Russia. The lush forests of the Pine Valley nature reserve are home to dozens of endangered species - none more rare than the Amur Leopard.
The big cat once stalked this land in great numbers but there are fewer than 40 leopards left.
This corner of Russia is the cat's last remaining wild habitat.
Now environmentalists warn it is under threat - from a plan to build the longest oil pipeline in the world. The state-backed pipeline monopoly Transneft will shortly submit its final proposal for the multi-billion-dollar project - a line to feed the energy-hungry markets of China and Japan from the as yet untapped reserves of east Siberian oilfields. According to the current proposal, the pipeline would pass within metres of the Pine Valley reserve, taking 1.6 million barrels of oil a day to a vast terminal on the coast.
Alexander Zayev is in charge of five rangers protecting the reserve. Driving out on patrol, his old rifle rattling against one camouflage-clad knee, Alexander says his main enemies are poachers and forest fires. China is developing fast and needs lots of oil. So we have a lot to gain with this
Sergei GrigorievTransneft Vice President calls the valley a natural botanical garden - it has been guarded from human intervention since Soviet times. But Alexander fears the Pacific pipeline project would cause irreparable damage. "The population in this area would increase several times," he says.
"That means many more poachers; more people straying into the reserve. With a new industrial zone on our doorstep, this area would be impossible for us to protect." Those backing the Pacific pipeline call it the mega-project of the century.
But environmentalist Sergei Bereznyuk believes it would be the last straw for the Amur leopard. "We already lost the leopard population in North Korea and China. The last ones are here in the Russian Far East," explains Sergei, director of the Phoenix Fund in Vladivostok. He has appealed to the courts to try to stop the project. "It's just crazy to make the pipeline go through the leopards' habitat," he says. "We've proposed other routes that would be better for the people of Primorye region and for the leopard."
Beyond the initial construction work, Sergei is also concerned about plans to build a terminal in the pristine bay at Perevoznaya. The water here is shallow and the winds strong, so local scientists calculate oilspills from tanker traffic are a real risk. Russia's only marine reserve is just a few miles out to sea.
The pipeline route via Perevoznaya has not been approved yet by the government, and officially Transneft says it is not final. But the firm seems confident. It is already promoting the project at major conferences; luring investors. "This is a unique project," enthuses Transneft Vice President Sergei Grigoriev, surrounded by hundreds of businessmen - many of them foreign - all vying to be involved with the pipeline.


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