A chance to make the company change plans:
A nature reserve off the western coast of Kamchatka ?

Lach Ethno-Ecological Information Center , Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy

On 27 January 2005 hearings took place in the Administration of the Kamchatkan Oblast concerning the creation of a federally protected nature area on the shelf of the Sea of Okhotsk west of Kamchatka . Representatives of KamchatNIRO*, KF TIG DVO RAS **, nature environmental conservation organisations, FGU “Sevvostrybvod”***, the administrations of the Kamchatkan Oblast and Koryak Autonomous Okrug as well as Northern indigenous peoples organisations took part.

The shelf off western Kamchatka is a unique breeding area for valuable bioresources and one of the most significant fisheries. Recent human activities on the shelf significantly impact natural conditions there, as well as the interests of Northern indigenous peoples and the population as a whole.

The first proposals regarding hydrocarbon investigations on the shelf were made in 1992. On 8 August 2003 the Ministry of Natural Resources gave a license to the Open Joint Stock Company NK Rosneft for geological investigations of hydrocarbon deposits within a sector on the West Kamchatkan shelf. The license is valid until 1 August 2008 . According to the news agency Regnum, Rosneft and the Korean National Oil Corporation (KNOC) entered an Interim Financial Agreement (IFA) on 22 February, in Moscow , according to which KNOC will take part in the development project of a prospective site within Rosneft’s license area. Rosneft’s press service confirms this. In September 2004, during a visit by the Korean president, No Mu Hen, Rosneft and KNOC signed a memorandum of mutual understanding about joint development of the site. According to this document, the work will be carried out by newly created joint ventures. In accordance with the memorandum, Korea has already carried out a number of investigations in the license area. The parties agreed further that in 2005 an area of 60,000 km2 will be seismologically investigated, and three boreholes will be drilled by 2008. In addition, the parties will create a joint company by the end of this year.

According to representatives of the Korean party, KNOC attaches special significance to its participation in the development project for two reasons: first, because of the geographical affinity of the area with the Korean peninsula and, second, because of its industrial potential. Rosneft and KNOC believe that hydrocarbon development on the Russian shelf of Kamchatka will have a stabilising effect on oil delivery for the Asian and Pacific markets and will contribute to a permanent power balance of the region.

The shelf’s oil stores consist of 26 oil fields and are preliminarily estimated at 900 million tons. In the opinion of Rosneft’s experts, the size of the project is comparable to the Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 projects (off northern Sakhalin ). The first stage of development is expected to take approximately two and half years and will involve investments of nearly $150 million. It is assumed that the Koreans will finance the project to the point where commercial extraction can begin. According to the Petropavlovsk Evening News, rather than waiting until KNOC recovers its initial outlay for the project’s development, Rosneft will receive a certain part of the income shortly after commercial extraction commences.

But oil exploitation will endager the fish stocks in Kamchatkan waters, and Kamchatka as a whole. Oil extraction poses a threat to all the biodiversity of the shelf, including 227 species of fish, 9 species of crabs, 6 species of shrimps, almost 200 species of seaweed.

To control the Rosneft’s activities, the Council of People’s Deputies of Kamchatka has initiated the formation of a federally protected area on the shelf. This initiative was supported by the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Sakhalin regional Duma, the administration of the Primorye Territory , KamchatNIRO, FGU “Sevvostrybvod”, and the administration of the Kamchatkan Oblast. On 22 December 2004 the regional Council of People's Deputies sent a letter to President Putin. The answer has not yet been received.

In the Duma of the Koryak Autonomous Okrug, district and regional deputies agree that the ongoing development of the shelf is unacceptable. But at the same time they say that the creation of a protected area is premature as it would exclude all economic activities, according to Nikolai Gavrilov, vice governor of the Koryak Autonomous Okrug.

On 22 April the Kamchatkan Regional Electoral Commission assigned a task force to draft a petition in support of a referendum on the geological prospecting on the West Kamchatkan shelf.

The governor of the Kamchatkan Oblast, Mikhail Mashkovtsev, received an official letter on 27 June. The letter says that the Ministry of Agriculture, on behalf of the government of the Russian Federation , is considering an appeal by the governor of Kamchatka on the possibility of establishing the specially protected area on the West Kamchatkan shelf. The Ministry of Agriculture proposed to the Ministry of Natural Resources to hold an interdepartmental meeting with participation of all relevant ministries, departments and representatives of regional administrations of the adjacent territories.

The State Office of the Public Prosecutor of the RF is investigating the legitimacy of Rosneft’s activities in connection with the oil fields on the shelf.

In May 2005 the task force had drafted its petition in support of carrying out a referendum in Kamchatka . The petition posed two questions:

1. Do you consider it necessary for the federal authorities, together with the Kamchatkan administration, to carry out an assessment of the special economic interests of indigenous peoples and other population of Kamchatka in connection with the investigations and development of mineral resources on the West-Kamchatkan shelf, by means of:

2. Do you think that the governor of Kamchatka must withdraw the license given to the Open Joint Stock Company NK Rosneft to carry out prospecting for hydrocarbon deposits on the West Kamchatkan shelf, in accordance with the 2003 enactment of the Ministry of Natural Resources, which was given without taking into account the special economic interests of indigenous peoples and other populations in Kamchatka.

The appropriateness of the draft petition has been approved by the Council of People’s Deputies of Kamchatka. It is planned to carry out the referendum in Kamchatka in autumn 2005.

* Kamchatkan Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography
** Kamchatkan Branch of Pacific Institute of Geography, Rus. Acad. Sci.
***Federal State Agency “Northeastern Ocean Office for Environmental Protection, Reproduction of Marine Biological Resources and Fishery Management”