English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов - живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World - Living Arctic) No. 14, 2004

Whoever in Kamchatka needs oil?

Andrey Yablochkov, Coordinator of the FE coalition “Living Sea” in Kamchatka

Our organisation learned from the Special Maritime Inspectorate of the Ministry for Natural Resources (MNR), which supervises marine activities in the Koryak Autonomous Okrug (KAO), that oil prospecting was carried out in the beginning of September in the Karagiyskiy Bay. This hapened as part of a hydrocarbon exploitation programme focused on Kamchatkan offshore areas. The vessel S.S. Zefir 1 of the Federal unitary enterprise Dalmorneftegeofizika carried out the prospecting operations by order of Russia’s Ministry for Natural Resources.

According to the estimates calculated by specialists of the Kamchatkan Research Institute of Fishery and Oceanography, the possible damage caused by prospecting only is almost 31,000 U.S. dollars. This is merely due to the survey operations carried out from the sea surface with reflected shock waves, which only lasted one week. It is easy to imagine what the damage would be once offshore development envisaged for some ten-twenty years get underway with the help of drilling rigs.

What is more, according to experts of the KAO Special Maritime Inspectorate, no one would ever compensate for damages caused by prospecting operations, since it was the state in the person of the MNR, which both ordered and carried them out. Dalmorneftegeofizika is a state entity, and according to the existing laws compensation for damages should be paid to the state just as well. As a result, the state still gets trumps in its hand and is still having the money. It has carried out the prospecting operations and nobody will compensate nature for damages.

None of the Kamchatkan supervising organisations has ever seen any public expert evaluation of the above hydrocarbon prospecting, or the method itself used during the operations. The report about the accomplished operations has not been submitted to anyone in Kamchatka either.

The news about the operations has evoked negative response among the majority of those present at the meeting of the Committee on Ecology of the KAO Duma, expressing their opinion that the oil development of Kamchatkan offshore areas is inadmissible.

Those doing the job enjoy full approval for drawing up hydrocarbon prospecting and development in our offshore areas by two persons only – the governors of the Kamchatkan Region and the Koryak Autonomous Okrug. Which interests are our governors defending, then, those of Moscow or those of Kamchatka?

Moscow leaders do not deem it expedient to find out the opinion of Kamchatkan scientists, to say nothing of consulting the public. The job to assess the likely impact of envisaged projects on the Kamchatkan environment is done by scholars residing thousands of miles away, who have either never visited us or used to come here a long time ago and/or stopped off briefly.

Moscovian authorities, unfortunately, have taken practically full control of Kamchatkan resources both in fishing and other branches of economy. As a result, it is left for the population of Kamchatka to starve and live in poverty.

Our organisation has already made an appeal to declare a moratorium on prospecting and industrial development in our Kamchatkan offshore areas at least until technologies applied in prospecting and production of mineral resources become environmentally safe. Representatives of Kamchatkan indigenous peoples, fishermen of the Peninsula have made a similar appeal. They are threatened by the Kamchatkan offshore development plans of Russia’s Ministry for Natural Resources in the first place.

Until now, indigenous peoples of Kamchatka, as well as the rest of its coastal and inland population have survived thanks to their fisheries. During the previous 70 years of Soviet power they were diverted from a traditional way of life without getting anything in return. Now there is an intention to deprive them of the only source of existence. The assurances of the authorities and geo-industrialists that – once the development of mineral resources start in the area – the life of the local and especially indigenous population residing there will immediately turn into a bed of roses, are not worth a brass farthing. The annual production of platinum in KAO is about five tons, and whose life among the local people has turned into a real picnic? The same process is currently underway in Sakhalin. Immigrants and foreign employees are mostly invited to carry out the projects Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2. New houses and even whole villages have been built for them, while the local population is still sticking it out huddled in their dilapidated old homes as ages before, staring over the fence at somebody else’s good lifestyle.

Fishing is the basic branch of economy in Kamchatka. Its fishing resources are renewable, i.e. this sector of economy will secure employment and subsistence for the Kamchatkan population for a decade as well as for a hundred years provided nature use remains sustainable and rational, while deposits of hydrocarbons are, as a rule, doomed to depletion in a decade or a maximum of a couple of decades. Besides, after the completion of extraction of mineral resources loads of abandoned machinery and equipment, a disrupted ecosystem and abandoned dilapidated temporary villages of oilmen with some of the former dwellers, who have either failed to leave in time or refused to do so, are left behind. And once again everything will be repeated: the population which either could not emmigrate or refused to do so, failing to find jobs, would start poaching in the forests and on the rivers if by the time there is anything left to catch and hunt. The local and regional authorities would once again have a headache – how to secure a normal way of life in these villages bearing in mind shipments of fuel and foodstuffs, repairs of dwellings and maintenance of heating systems, and so on and so forth.

Our organisation is not against the development of mineral resources. However, the current level of running the business is forcing us to come out with such highly pessimistic forecasts for further development of events in case the exploration of hydrocarbonaceous deposits in the offshore areas of the Peninsula commences.

In this connection, our organisation is once again pleading with the government and regional authorities to understand the fatal consequences of the envisaged offshore exploration of hydrocarbon deposits for Kamchatka’s economy and to declare a moratorium on such operations by reclassifying these stocks of mineral deposits as future reserves.