“Gornaya Zakamna – XXI vek”
V.D. Sharaldaeva, Candidate of Sciences (Biology), Senior Teacher of the Ecology & BVA Chair of ESSTU, Deputy Chairperson of the UF Council
Aggravation of the problems prevailing in the district
The district residents have learned a sad, negative lesson with regard to the closure of the Dzhidinskiy tungsten-molybdenum enterprise. These problems are not only of an environmental nature, but also of a socio-economic nature. No land has been restored to a usable condition after the shutdown of the plant. Trenches, pits, quarries and the earth turned upside down are all that has been left to remind us of the operations of the former industrial giant. The tailing dump of the enrichment plant is a constant source of environmental pollution. The slightest breath of air would bring clouds of sand from the plant to pour all over the town of Zakamensk. The Modonkul River running across these sands is the most polluted river in the Lake Baikal basin. The content of high-density metals exceeds the maximum permissible level by dozens of times. Subsequently, not a single advance survey group has undertaken restoration activities.
The danger of the recurrence of such an experience during the pipeline construction is quite real. Apart from ecological problems, the district population has inherited an impressive number of pending socio-economic issues, such as the loss of jobs, and disintegration of the infrastructure of the entire town of Zakamensk built around the plant to provide the services required. The residents of Zakamensk have been left alone facing these challenges, with neither the federal nor the Republic’s government offering any help. As is known, the “life” of a pipeline is not a long one, and what would happen to the local population then? Another tragedy and devastation? Therefore, the question of closing down the pipeline is crucial. It is vital to envisage a fund for the closing down of the pipeline.
The territory of the Zakamenskiy District is notable for its undisturbed ecosystems, which have survived due to accessibility problems and efforts of the local population and administration which prevented the Zabaikalles production association from felling industrial timber in the area in the late 1980s. As of today, calculations by the scientists show that the value of ecological functions of our biological resources is almost four times higher than that of their potential use in the economy., The construction of the oil pipeline violates the integrity of forest ecosystems in the district, and makes the access to the area easier, since a technological road will be built directly from the Irkutsk region to the district. In this regard, the risk of forest fires and the number of cases of illegal hunting and fowling (poaching) will increase dramatically, both at the stage of the pipeline construction and during its operation. Surely, there is a tremendous negative impact on the natural environment during construction operations: outright destruction of habitat of animals and vegetation, noise effect, pollution as a result of emission of harmful substances, and disturbance caused by man. Since the major part of the planned pipeline is to run across the highlands, the probability of erosion processes is quite probable. It is unknown, therefore, how many years the restoration of the abused lands, including agricultural lands (pastures, hay fields), would take. The route of the pipeline goes through the commercial nut gathering and hunting zone of the district. The majority of the rural population lives at the expense of traditional subsistence activities – animal breeding, hunting and use of non-ligneous resources of forests (berries, mushrooms, pine nuts). The local population’s apprehension and negative attitude towards the pipeline construction project is understandable. The very foundations of a traditional lifestyle of the local population are affected (the estimated income of the local population from pine nut gathering).
Besides, there is a strong probability that social tensions will mount between the local residents whose material standard of living is not very high and the incoming specialists who would have quite a different level of wages.
It is vital, therefore, to work out the mechanisms and ascertain social guarantees to protect the interests of the local population, since today the rank-and-file local people have only disadvantages from the pipeline construction : environmental, social, economic, and ethnic. The financial resources, which are to be transferred to the federal and local budgets, hardly play any tangible role today for the villager. Less than one third of the total number of the rural population is financed from the budget at present – teachers, medical servants and pensioners. Some people get various negligible subsidies, and the rest, the majority of the population, makes a living independently.
The next real threat is related to the religious feelings of local residents. The pipeline is in the vicinity of many sacred sites: kinship, family obos (sites of worshipping, praying, sacrificing), which have been protected from times immemorial by taboos forbidding intrusion. Nothing is allowed to move at these locations, it is forbidden to break tree branches and twigs, and pluck grass, or else the spirits – masters of the areas - would become angry. Practically every mountain top in the district is known to be a sacred place. For example, every mountain is sacred in the Utaa Nyurgan ridge, which is to be crossed by the pipeline. Besides, the route of the pipeline intrudes the area of local salubrious springs – arshans in the vicinity of the villages of Dalakhai, Yengorboi, Mikhaylovka, Bortoi, Bayangol, Khurtaga, Ulekchin, which are also cherished as sacred sites. Construction operations may change the hydrological pattern of springs, the content of waters, and they will be, most likely, lost for us for good. Arshans are, as a rule, small springs coming up from the ground, and any blasting and construction operations would be disastrous for them. In the district, at the same time, 56 out of every hundred people go to these springs to restore their health, while 26 more do not travel to any other place for a holiday. The local people keep asking the vexed question: will the result of the pipeline construction be health detriment or improvement?
However, it is the pipeline itself that is fraught with the greatest danger. In case of an accident at the pipeline the soil and water resources around would be polluted. Bearing in mind that all the rivers crossed by the pipeline flow down to the Lake Baikal the spilled oil in any case, sooner or later, would reach the lake. But even during the routine operation of pipelines an immense quantity of oil pollutes the environment. Russia is the only country with “normative losses of oil” (Standards of natural wastage of delivered oil products… RD 153-39.4-033-98). In the rest of the world the accepted standard is the absence of leakages. Even the approximate calculations of the so-called “normative losses” would show that the estimates for the Zakamenskiy district alone are quite grave – about 19,000 tons annually per 100 kilometers of the pipeline. According to experts, the forest vegetation covered with a 4-centimeter layer of oil perishes in the first place; young trees are killed even when covered with a thinner layer. One gram of oil once in water medium makes 100 liters of water unfit for use. The fish industry indicator of the maximum permissible level of oil and oil products in water is 0.05 milligram per liter. 100 tons of oil can pollute 2 square kilometers of water up to the maximum level. These are the losses nobody notices; and, accordingly, no efforts are made to do away with the environmental oil pollution. It is essential to consider all cases of the pipeline’s negative impacts of the pipeline on the environment, human life and health when making calculations of the amount of compensations. It is also expedient to set aside an insurance fund and separately stipulate mechanisms to execute examinations.
The acquaintance with the environmental impact assessment (EIA) makes one feel perplexed: what is it, some kind of misunderstanding? A piece of work badly done without any embarrassment? Or a formality? An impression is created that the company has no respect for anybody’s interests, except its own. There is no common marten in the Baikal region, nor is there any American mink as the EIA materials are claiming. This is an indication of the competence of specialists compiling this chapter. The references are basically dating back to publications made in 1970s – 1980s, which have become antiquated, though new research has been carried out in the region since then and its results have been published. Not all the criteria have been taken into consideration by the calculated compensation for the environmental damage, though there are modern systems of methods to calculate the damage caused to environment as a result of man-made activities. For instance, timber valuation is made only as the value of standing timber without taking into account other, more important forest functions (see “The Buryat scientists have calculated the real value of the Baikal forests” in “Number One” by R. Galimov). The amount of with regard to fishing resources has been calculated for the Republic of Buryatiya at 24,000 rubles, so for the Zakamenskiy District it would be mere 6,000 rubles, though the rivers crossed by the pipeline are known to have the taimen () included in the Red data book. (All the EIA-related comments by the specialists have been made at public hearings and recorded in the minutes). I believe that to prepare an environmental impact assessment of the pipeline construction project “Russia-China” it would have been essential first to preliminarily carry out surveys, specify the pipeline route, hold consultations or invite competent specialists who have already investigated the district to participate in the efforts or at least get acquainted with the latest scientific publications about the research carried out in the area chosen for the pipeline construction.
The YUKOS Company is not eager to make contact with local public, environmental organisations and the public in general. The social foundation “Gornaya Zakamna – XXI vek” (“Zakamna Highlands – 21st Century”), in particular, has made numerous inquiries in order to obtain EIA materials, which have never been provided. There has been no answer so far to letter # 25 of July 31, 2002 addressed to Mr. Yu.D. Ivanov. This kind of internal focus creates certain tension paving the way for suspicions of unscrupulous methods and non-transparency of the project.
It is essential to identify as early as possible all the issues and try and iron them out. Representatives of the company should meet the local villagers; bring all the truthful, unbiased information to their attention, answer the questions they are anxious about and listen to their opinions. It is also necessary to take into account that the opinions and position of the local population do not always coincide with those of the authorities. The people inhabiting the Zakamenskiy District intend to stand up for their interests to the last if they do not coincide with the official ones. This again is fraught with an emerging social tension in the district.
As is known, the construction project of the oil pipeline is running side by side with a construction project of a gas pipeline initiated by the RUSIA-Petroleum (RP) Company. Discussions of the latter have been convened in the district. Compared with YUKOS, RP is distinguished for its more appropriate methods of work, its greater openness and desire to find and eliminate the emerging differences. The environmental impact assessment of the gas line is done competently, avoiding the gross errors which are found in the YUKOS project’s EIA. On a preliminary basis, RP has been engaged in surveys and other efforts to make the route of its gas line better mapped out.
Why was Slovakia chosen for becoming familiar with the operation of oil pipelines, and not Western Siberia where YUKOS is in fact operating?
 The quoted data are from the survey of Lena Dashiyeva, a tenth-form pupil of the district grammar school, who carried out a yearlong research into the district springs.
Meeting in the village of Mylo, Zakamenskiy District, Republic of Buryatiya
The village of Mylo in the Zakamenskiy District of the Buryat Republic has a majority indigenous population. 428 people out of the total of 670 of its inhabitants belong to a special branch of the Evenk people, the Khamnigan Evenks. They are basically engaged in hunting, and subordinarily forest-related commercial occupations, gathering and fishing. They came here in the 17th century from the banks of the Lena River and settled on the banks of the Khamnya (Zakamna) River. In the 18th century the services of these Tungus people (the old name for the Evenks) and the neighbouring Terges Mongolians sharing the same area used to be enlisted as border guards of the Zakamna territory. A hundred and fifty years ago the Khamnigan Evenks’ ancestors spoke the Evenk language, but having lived a long time in the Buryat encirclement they have gradually adopted the Buryat language, while preserving many words of Evenk origin in their vocabulary. The data concerning the history of this group have been quoted from a paper prepared by S.D. Babuev, Candidate of Sciences (Philology), research associate of the Institute of Mongolian Studies, Buddhism and Tibetology of the Siberian Section of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Language adoption in a dominant foreign environment is occurring everywhere. Likewise, for example, many Evenk groups of Yakutiya have gradually adopted the dominating Yakut language, but this does not deprive them of the right to consider and call themselves Evenks.
The Mylo villagers would like to establish a Territory of Traditional Nature Use, but this right is not recognised, since their majority have never been registered as Buryats. During the last census the Khamnigan Evenks requested the authorities to register them according to their self-assessment as guaranteed by Article 26 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, but it did not happen. Their ethnic affiliation was classified as “Other”.
The Mylo villagers have maintained an active civil position with regard to the oil pipeline construction running across their traditional territories. In September 2002 they convened a general meeting to discuss this problem; 148 people attended the meeting (almost half of the total adult population of the village).
The following opinions were voiced during the gathering (quoted from the minutes):
“206 kilometers of the envisaged pipeline would go across our district. Its operational period is estimated at only 25-30 years only.
The threat of negative environmental impacts is immense:
The attendees suggested consideration of another pipeline lane going along the Baikal-Amur railway and round Buryatiya all the way to Nakhodka”.
The Zakamenskiy district council of deputies of the local self-government passed the following decision on 5 November 2002: “On holding a referendum on the issue of allotting land in the territory of the Zakamenskiy district for the construction of the “Angarsk-Datsin” oil pipeline by the YUKOS Company. The date for the local referendum on the question ‘Do you agree with allotting lands on the territory of the Zakamenskiy district for the construction of “Angarsk-Datsin” oil pipeline by the YUKOS Company?’ is 22 December 2002”.
Unfortunately, the referendum did not take place. At the last moment the responsible authorities found some kind of legal discrepancies in the documents submitted by the Zakamenskiy district council of deputies. However, the Buryat Republic’s Association of Indigenous Peoples believes that sooner or later the referendum on the problem of the oil pipeline construction should be held bearing in mind that meetings on the issue are still held in indigenous villages. People are anxious about the future of their lands and, ultimately, the future of the entire population whose interests would be affected by the project. The “Angarsk-Datsin” pipeline project needs an ethnological assessment.
Public environmental expert evaluation of the project “Substantiation of investments into construction of the “Russia-China” oil pipeline by the open joint-stock oil company YUKOS”
During the preparation of this issue of our journal the editorial board received information about a public environmental expert evaluations carried out to appraise the project of “Substantiation of investments into construction of the “Russia-China” oil pipeline by the open joint stock oil company YUKOS”.
An expert commission was formed by the Baikal Center for Public Environmental Expert Evaluations attached to the Buryat Regional Association dealing with the problems of the Baikal area. Highly skilled specialists from Eastern Siberia’s research and development institutions as well as industrial entities, scientists from Moscow and international experts were invited to join the commission. The appraisal of the project was carried out at a high scientific and professional level. Experts discovered discrepancies between the project, the Constitution, and Russian legislation. The Technical Assignment of the Environmental Impact Assessment (TA EIA) identified environmental and economic threats concealed in the project and presented recommendations how to eliminate them.
General conclusion of the public expert evaluations:
On the basis of the above, the expert commission recommends the following:
By the majority of votes (eight out of eleven) to reject the project of “Substantiation of investments into construction of “Russia-China” oil pipeline by the open joint stock oil company YUKOS” on the basis of conclusions made by the majority of experts of the public ecological expertise.
The proposal was put forward to work out the project to completion with due account of the comments and proposals, and to submit it again for another assessment. This was supported by the votes of three experts.
On the basis of the assessment of social and ethnocultural aspects of the project made by Ms. N.L. Zhukovskaya, (Doctor of Sciences [History], Professor, Head of the Department of Asian and Pacific Studies of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Russian Academy of Sciences) the expert commission came to the following conclusions:
With regard to the impact of the envisaged activities, the project documents at the stage of “investment substantiation” have been submitted incompletely and do not correspond to the approved technical assignment of EIA,
In particular, the assessment of the impact of the intended activities on the culture of the indigenous groups, the identification of possible conflict situations pertaining to the changes in the traditional lifestyle of the local population along the designed route of the pipeline, as well as the investor’s obligations to eliminate such conflict situations, are all missing.
The proponents of the project have failed to submit substantial information about socio-economic conditions of the life of indigenous peoples and local communities, which would objectively assess their traditional lifestyle, culture and traditional economic activity.
The conclusion of the project elaborators stating that “the infringement of the established way of life will be of a temporary and reversible nature” seems to be ill founded. The forecasted impact of the contemplated economic activity on the traditional lifestyle and culture of indigenous groups practically has not been assessed, though there have been factual materials available.
A sound evaluation of the impact on the indigenous environment and socio-cultural situation as a result of the intended actions is feasible within the framework of an ethnological assessment, which should precede the stage of “investment substantiation”.
The fact that this assessment was made gives definite proof of a high civil engagement regarding the problems of preservation of human habitat and protection of human rights. This is an important step forward on the way to building a civil society in Russia.