English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World Living Arctic) No. 4, 2000

Disturbing news from Kamchatka

Olga Murashko

At the end of July 2000, public hearings focused on Kamchatka's biodiversity protection programs were held in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy. There, in the presence of representatives of indigenous peoples' organizations, official agents responsible for the use of Kamchatka's natural resources declared their decision to exclude the previously agreed upon areas of the Tigil, Yicha and Oblukovina basins from those covered by the salmon protection program. The decision was motivated by the fact that protected environmental areas on these rivers would hinder the Kamchatka's Natural Resources Committee’s plans to extract gold, nickel and other minerals as well as oil and gas in the areas concerned.

This statement, both alarming and raising a lot of questions, was like a bolt from the blue for the indigenous peoples of the region. Coupled with the gas pipeline project now well underway along the Sea of Okhotsk coast and the aggressive tone of the article by Mr. I. G. Petrenko, Head of the Geological Department, Kamchatka Oblast Natural Resources Committee (Any Need for Gold and Gas in Kamchatka?) in the local Kamchatkan press, it has prompted worries over the fate of Kamchatka and the Sea of Okhotsk.

The point is that for the last 15 years Kamchatka has faced a struggle between two concepts guiding the region's development. One was based on efforts to expand mineral extraction, the other was focused on protecting the unique environment of Kamchatka and developing environment-oriented branches of economy - deep processing of renewable natural resources, mainly marine bioresources, advancing nontraditional types of power engineering (thermal, solar and wind energy), and upgrading tourist facilities and services.

In the mid-1990s, it looked as if the pendulum had swung to the side of the environmental concept. In 1996, as a result of a sizable effort carried out by scientists over a number of years, five protected areas in Kamchatka were included in the UNESCO system of the World Natural Heritage. Starting in 1997, a strategy to protect Kamchatka’s biodiversity has been under formulation by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Global Ecological Foundation (GEF). Two programs have been proposed to the Russian government and Administrations of Kamchatka Oblast and Koryak Autonomous Okrug: The Preservation of Biodiversity of Four Protected Natural Territories of the Kamchatka Oblast and The Preservation and Management of Salmon Population in the Kamchatka Peninsula. The main objective of both programs is to create conditions favourable for protection as well as rational and sustainable use of natural resources of Kamchatka. Both programs have concentrated largely on preserving the traditional skills and practices of Kamchatka's indigenous peoples in order to develop their own potential for self-sufficiency. Indigenous peoples' organizations have participated actively in the development of these programs. They have followed suit by drafting programs to revive reindeer herding, sea mammal hunting, and cologically clean traditional modes of transport, to develop ethno-ecological tourist services, and to promote the participation of indigenous peoples in environmental protection. The indigenous peoples had great expectations regarding such programs.

In the summer of 2000, however, the attitude of the Kamchatka administration towards the environmental programs changed. After the break-up of the State Committee on Ecology in May 2000 and the transfer of its functions to the Ministry of Natural Resources, the environmental issues of Kamchatka, like elsewhere, were inherited by the local committee on natural resources. By tradition, functionaries with geological education have played a leading role in the Kamchatka's Natural Resources Committee. For them, the break-up of the Committee on Ecology has been interpreted as a clear signal to replace the ecologically-oriented concept guiding the peninsula's development. They say that the events have coincided with expiration of the state license of the Kamchatka's Geological Committee. Besides, gubernatorial elections are due to take place in December. The time has come to sum up.

Apparently faced with the results of their efforts, some entity concerned failed to think of anything better and opted to shift full responsibility for their own inactivity and set-backs in the economic development of Kamchatka in recent years on to ecologists.Fault-finders were not fastidious in their choice of words criticising the local ecologists. Thus, Mr. Petrenko, who made a big splash in the peninsula with his article Any Need for Gold and Gas in Kamchatka?, labeled environmentalists of Kamchatka not only as agents of foreign capital seizing the entire mass media but also as cannibals, ascribing an absurd goal to their activities - the reduction of the population. Some quotations from the article: 'The introduction of the envisaged protection areas is yet another step towards the reduction of population'; 'The creation of two Nature Parks dealt the most serious blow to the Kamchatkan gold'; and, finally, 'The deceived Kamchatkan school children, under the guidance of Madam Romanova, using American money, stood out for the interests of U.S. mining companies.'  The last phrase refers to schoolchildren picketing the administration office in protest against gold mining in Kamchatka. The article is chock-full with mythical tons of production shortfalls and millions of expected lost profits through the ecologists' fault.

Similar statements were made by other officials during the public hearings on Kamchatka's biodiversity protection. One of them snorted: 'We are offered a meager $10 million while nickel alone would give us $600 million.' It was bad enough since it did not sound quite decent. Echoing a character in a novel by II’f and Petrov, we would add: 'Bargaining is inappropriate in this case', since the gratuitous $10 million was offered immediately and the rest $30 million in the next decade. Those were real investments, the hard cash so sorely needed in Kamchatka as primary capital to prop up environmental services and develop profitable tourist sector of economy.  $600 million for nickel was in fact a mythical figure - there are no such deposits of nickel in Kamchatka and the world nickel market is oversaturated. Sales, in this case, will have to be at dumping prices with further losses in  costs to construct sidings and a processing plant in remote areas, as well as the cost of environmental damage and the loss of profits from sports, eco- and ethno-tourism.

It did not occur to anyone that the deposits of nickel happened to be on the ancestral land of the indigenous peoples of Kamchatka. The planned extraction of other deposits affects in a similar way the territories of traditional use by the indigenous peoples of Kamchatka. The administration has a peculiar answer to these legal objections: 'We cannot ignore the interests of the entire population of Kamchatka in the interests of 150 (or 450, maybe more) people.'

Unfortunately, 'the interests of the entire population of Kamchatka' would hardly be met by mineral resource development. Mountains of gold and rivers full of oil promised by Kamchatkan geologists will not make the people of Kamchatka happy. To prove the point, it suffices to reflect on the Sakhalin experience of many years of geological surveys and development of oil and gas fields in the area.The population of Sakhalin was promised jobs and natural gas in their houses by 1995, but there are neither jobs nor gas. For some reason, gas supplies have been postponed until 2005-2010. Instead, strange Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) are being signed with mining companies. For instance, in accordance with a PSA, the Sakhalin-2 Project enjoys full federal tax remission, except for royalties - the payment made for the utilisation of mineral wealth (6 percent) and profit tax (32 percent). In accordance with the decision of the Sakhalin Oblast Duma, the mining company, and all its contractors and subcontractors engaged in the Sakhalin-2 Project,  are exempt from taxes otherwise directed to the Oblast budget.

In 1999, oil production started in the Astokhskoe field, deploying the most dangerous method of transportation ―  tankers ― and the cheapest to get rid of it... sea dumping. The first tanker with Sakhalin oil cast off in July 1999. Its route to Japan goes along the coast of Tyuleniy Island, a nature reserve and habitat of sea mammals and birds.

Even today, the Molikpak oil platform, which produced the first oil, dumps thousands of tons of used boring solutions and slurries containing heavy metals, oil products and other toxic substances.

What parameters do the state authorities use to evaluate the success of the Sakhalin offshore oil exploration program and what do the people of the region get from its realisation? An indirect answer can be found in an interview given by Mr. Igor P. Farakhutdinov in April 2000 to a TASS-PRESS correspondent. Proudly portraying the achievements of the Sakhalin Oblast in developing offshore oil and gas deposits, the Governor quoted the following indicator: in 1999, Sakhalin was ranked second in Russia judging by the level of foreign investments. But no matter how hard I tried to get to the core of the interview, I failed to find information of whether these investments made the life of the population in Sakhalin any better and  where these investments were channeled.

The oil is being shipped from Sakhalin, the sea pollution is worsening, foreign oil companies employ only their own specialists with no employment offered to the local population, there is no natural gas in the homes of Sakhalin dwellers and no promised improvement of their life either. Consideration of the Sakhalin experience reveals that mining companies (foreign companies among them) and Russian authorities pursue a single goal - quick and maximum profits ― while showing a total disregard for the environment and the interests of the population.

Foreign companies will surely be attracted to the development of both onshore and offshore mineral resource deposits in Kamchatka. What will it bring the population of Kamchatka? Have a look at Sakhalin and you will see.

A small group of professionals will, possibly, be able 'to share overseas experience'; it is also possible that another small group of people will have some benefits. However, it is unlikely that the people gaining by the development of mineral resource deposits would outnumber those who would fall victim to this process, deprived of their traditional land and bases for subsistence. The entire population of Kamchatka would witness hardly any change for the better, while Kamchatka's environment ― including   the fish stock on which the majority of population depend for their subsistence ― would definitely be negatively affected.

Mr. I. D. Petrenko wrote in his article that natural gas resources in Kamchatka would last for 15 years, and I have heard that gold and nickel deposits would not last longer than 10-15 years either. What comes next?It is quite possible that this is of no particular interest to Mr. I.D. Petrenko and the like-minded cohort of the same age in the current administration - in 15 years he will be 75. However, to present-day schoolchildren who recently picketed the administration office in protest against gold mining and to Kamchatka's indigenous people - Itelmens, Evens, Koryaks and Old-settlers ― their future is of great concern. They will live in Kamchatka, and it is vital for them whether its environment is ruined by slapdash development and dirt-cheap clearance sales of non-renewable natural resources or its nature and its plentiful stocks are preserved.

To put the blame on those willing to help Kamchatka evolve while protecting its environment and resources, to refuse such offer of help and instead mastermind hurried squandering and devastation of its natural resources is equivalent to living only for today. The indigenous peoples of Kamchatka and everyone else whose future is linked with the region cannot afford it.