Indigenous peoples and oil
Nina Zaporotskaya and Olga Murashko
from “Mir Korennykh Narodov – Zhivaya Arktika” No. 9-10, 2002
Expansion of oil and gas prospecting and prodution in Russia’s Far East
In Russia, the prospecting and oil and gas production areas have been expanding year after year.
At present, organizations of indigenous peoples become more and more frequently involved in the process of establishing public control over safety of such operations.
The offshore area in the Sea of Okhotsk is one of the endangered zones. Oil prospecting and production have been underway on the Sakhalin shelf since 1996. In the recent years oil companies have started to advance in the Northern direction moving closer to the offshore areas around Kamchatka. To substantiate this tendency the Kamchatkan Ethno-Ecological Center “Lach” has sent us an article published in the Kamchatkan newspaper “Vesti” (# 14, April 3, 2002) and reproduced below.
The Magadan Environmental Center (MEC) is raising the alarm in connection with yet another attempt to snatch at Russia’s offshore areas. The circulated information is focused on the western Kamchatkan shelf.
In particular, it is noted that the MEC had participated in a working meeting with Aleksandr Grevtsev, Director of the Oil and Gas Laboratory at the North-eastern Comprehensive Research Institute, Far Eastern Section of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and ideological inspirer of Magadan offshore prospecting and industrial development. On the eve of the meeting he visited Moscow and Oslo and shared some interesting news from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) with the attendees. It is specified in the publication that Grevtsev had obtained the facts personally and that the documents in substantiation of them, though existing, had not been signed yet.
Thus, repeating what he had heard it was planned to put up two oil fields of the western Kamchatkan offshore areas – Oblukovinskiy and Kolpakovskiy (Kamchatka-I Project) for a contest and consequent participation in auctions in 2002-2003 on the basis of the Product Sharing Agreement (PSA) within the framework of the program “Licensing of offshore oil fields for the 2002-2020 period”. The oil company Yukos is showing an interest in them. At present, the MNR has given full authority to Rosneft’ company to work out a PSA.
All sorts of unseemly efforts to get hold of the western Kamchatkan offshore areas have filled ecologists, and not only them with indignation. Condemning the “Concept of prospecting and developing offshore hydrocarbonaceous resources of the seas of Russia’s Far East and North-East” adopted by the RF Committee on Geology and Utilization of Mineral Wealth, RF Ministry of Fuel and Power Development, V.N. Burkanov, former director of Kamchatrybvod (Kamchatkan Fish and Water Industry Board) used to speak on the subject categorically: “Kamchatrybvod insists on the inclusion of water areas of the western Kamchatkan shelf of the Sea of Okhotsk in the list of specially protected territories of vital importance for the preservation and reproduction and migration of valuable species of faunal resources as well as on the exclusion of these territories from the plans of prospecting and developing offshore hydrocarbonaceous resources.
Kamchatrybvod is of the opinion that due to their unique importance for Russia’s fish industry, any geological surveying and prospecting, and especially any industrial activity oriented at oil and gas production, in the territories concerned are absolutely inadmissible”.
At the same time, the Kamchatkan Ethno-Ecological Center “Lach” informs us that, “as reported from Palana, a protocol has been signed about geological surveying and prospecting on the territory of the Koryak Autonomous Okrug between Governor Vladimir Loginov and Robert Maxwell, President of International Petroleum. The essence of the document is that last year the Canadian company revised the available geological surveying and prospecting as well as geophysical materials on oil and gas content of the okrug’s territory within the limits of licensed oil and gas fields where the company was authorized to carry out geological prospecting (these operations were carried out on the territory of the Tigilskiy Rayon). In 2002, it is envisaged to start from the area attached to the Voyampolka River while in 2003 the prospecting is slated to continue in the vicinity of the village of Khayryuzovo. The total volume of investments is expected to reach about US$ 300 million. Despite the availability of such concrete plans of operations the KAO Association of indigenous peoples of the North has so far received no information about the results of either environmental expertise or assessment of these projects’ impact on the environment”.
All the aforementioned geographical areas of the envisaged prospecting for oil are situated along the western coastline of Kamchatka. These territories have long been traditional places of habitation and economic activities of indigenous peoples. Therefore, Kamchatkan indigenous peoples have every right to demand information about oil prospecting projects and all the documentation concerned. What is more, indigenous peoples have the right to insist on ethnological examination.
Socio-cultural impact assessment
Socio-cultural impact assessment is the assessment of a potential impact of implementation of surveying and prospecting or programs of industrial development in territories of traditional subsistence and economic activities of indigenous peoples on components of sustainable development of Northern indigenous peoples of the North.
The Association of indigenous peoples of the North in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug “Yamal to its Descendants!” has recently organized a socio-cultural impact assessment concerning the impact of the program of the open joint stock company “Gazprom” to carry out prospecting in the water areas of the Gulf of Ob and Taz Bay on components of sustainable development of Northern indigenous peoples.
In the summer of 2001, signatures of indigenous and local population were collected on the Yamal Peninsula against the resumed prospecting for oil in the surrounding water areas. Last fall, letters were written to the RF Ministry of Natural Resources in charge of issuance of licenses to carry out such operations, and the RF Procurator-General about the open joint stock company “Gazprom” violating law in the process of such operations (see Appendix). In November 2001, the open joint stock company “Gazprom” signed an agreement pledging to organize a socio-cultural impact assessment demanded by the Association “Yamal to its Descendants!” with the right to invite experts given to the Association “Yamal to its Descendants!”
A group of experts was formed with the help of RAIPON and the conclusion of the socio-cultural impact assessment was prepared by mid-March 2002. The experts have proved the fact that the risks related to realization of the “Gazprom” program in the water areas of the Gulf of Ob and Taz Bay could cause a long-term damage to fish stocks in the Ob and Taz basins, i.e. to a huge region and many thousands of indigenous and local inhabitants whose subsistence depends heavily on fishing. With the prevailing demographic and socio-economic crisis hitting the indigenous population, insufficient guarantees of environmental safety of “Gazprom” surveying and prospecting in the water areas of the Gulf of Ob and Taz Bay, the lack of socio-economic guarantees to the indigenous and local population, possible risks of deteriorating conditions of native habitat and traditional lifestyle of indigenous population are inadmissible.
The demand on the part of indigenous peoples to have a socio-cultural impact assessment is based on Article 8 of the Federal Law “On Guarantees of Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Federation”. It is a legitimate method to assess and make an attempt to prevent negative consequences resulting from geological surveying and prospecting development programs in traditional subsistence territories of indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East. We recommend Kamchatkan indigenous peoples to make use of the right to have an ethnological examination of offshore prospecting programs in the Sea of Okhotsk as well as in the Peninsula itself so that to obtain a qualified assessment of these operations’ impact on traditional lifestyle and indigenous habitat and to have readily at hand precise information about the ongoing process.
The experience gained during the socio-cultural impact assessment and related to the assessment of prospecting programs in the water areas of the Gulf of Ob and Taz Bay will be shortly published as a supplement to our journal. In case you need and wish to make use of this experience please do not hesitate to call our journal’s editorial staff and we will send you the publication free of charge.
Indigenous peoples of the North can and have the right to resist the expansion of oil and gas prospecting and production likely to damage the indigenous environment.
Please send your reports to our journal about any operations known to be underway in the areas of traditional inhabitance and economic activities, operations, in your opinion, likely to have a damaging effect on the environment and traditional subsistence. The Association will endeavor to render consultative and legal assistance in such a case.
Supplement: Letter to RF Procurator-General
To: Procurator-General of RF
Esteemed Vladimir Vladimirovich!
You are kindly requested to focus your attention on the fact that despite the protests by indigenous peoples of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, their social organizations and the appeal sent by the Russian Association of indigenous peoples of the North (RAIPON) to the RF Ministry of Natural Resources about violation of federal legislation the license granted to the subsidiary enterprise of RAO “Gazprom” has not been cancelled by the above Ministry until now.
The limited liability company, “Gazflot” obtained a license to carry out prospecting and capacity evaluation in the Mys-Kamenskiy and Severo-Mys-Kamenskiy fields in the areal of the Gulf of Ob and Taz Bay whose waters, thanks to their extreme productivity, for centuries have been the source of life and well-being of indigenous peoples inhabiting not only the banks of these water arteries but also the entire Ob-Irtysh and Pur-Taz basins.
Before the beginning of production works in the above water areas the indigenous and local population was not informed about either the decision to start operations and who authorized that decision or the contents of the conclusion reached by the state environmental and ethnological examinations of the development projects, or the very fact of such examinations in compliance with the requirements of Russian environmental legislation.
Thus, the RF Ministry of Natural Resources issuing the licenses and the limited liability company “Gazflot” have violated a number of standards of federal legislation, namely:
- Article 72.1 “m” of the Constitution of the Russian Federation about the defense of indigenous habitat and traditional lifestyle of indigenous communities;
- Article 8.1, Paragraphs 5 and 6 of the Federal Law “On Guarantees of Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Federation” stating:
“Article 8. The rights of indigenous peoples, associations of indigenous peoples and individuals belonging to indigenous peoples to the defense of their indigenous habitat, traditional lifestyle, economic activities and occupations:
(1) Indigenous peoples, associations of indigenous peoples, for the purpose of defense of their indigenous habitat, traditional lifestyle, economic activities and occupations have the right to:
 Participate through authorized representatives of indigenous peoples in preparation and adoption of decisions on problems pertaining to protection of indigenous habitat, traditional lifestyle, economic activities and occupations of indigenous peoples by the state bodies of the Russian Federation and offices of local self-governance;
 Participate in environmental and ethnological examinations at the time of elaboration of federal and regional state programs to develop natural resources and protect environment in the areas of traditional inhabitance and economic activities of indigenous peoples”.
In compliance with Articles 12, 13 of the Federal Law “On Environmental Protection”, citizens and social organizations have the right to demand the following information:
(1) On the basis of what regulations of the RF Government and other branches of state administration the development of gas fields in the Gulf of Ob and Taz Bay is carried out;
(2) When and what official publications printed RF Government’s regulations about the beginning of industrial development;
(3) Whether an environmental impact assessment of the above development projects was conducted in compliance with the requirements of Article 11 of the Federal Law “On Environmental Assessment”.
The indigenous and local population of the Nadymskiy, Tazovskiy and Yamalskiy rayons is extremely worried about the consequences of operations in the area of the Gulf of Ob and Taz Bay. Judging by the results of public hearings in 2001, the population of the villages in the Nadymskiy, Tazovskiy and Yamalskiy rayons declared categorically against prospecting and capacity evaluation operations in that water basin. In accordance with the existing qualification, the basin is an area of highest marine resource quality. Two-thirds of the world’s stock of whitefish species are found there. Drilling operations even at the stage of drilling prospecting holes has made a disastrous effect on the environmental situation in the water basin. They have already caused destruction of feeding resources and breeding grounds of valuable fish and sea mammal species. The data about the sharp reduction in the volume of catch by local fishermen serve as eloquent evidence of the damage done. If not stopped in time, the extermination of the fish population in the area would threaten the very existence of thousands of people inhabiting the settlements along the banks of the Ob, Irtysh, Taz, Pur rivers and the coastline of the Ob and Taz bays.
The missing reaction of federal authorities to citizens’ appeals has led to a sharp increase of tension and discontent among the residents of the town of Nadym, the Nadymskiy, Yamalskiy, Tazovskiy and other rayons of the Okrug. More than 1,500 inhabitants of Nadym, the Nadymskiy rayon and other areas signing the appeals have said a resolute no to the pernicious effect on nature of gas prospecting and development in the Ob and Taz bays. In confirmation of the above, please find enclosed copies of signed lists.
The Association of indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East of the Russian Federation has not received any answer from the RF Ministry of Natural Resources to its Appeal # 650 dated November 13, 2001 (enclosed) either.
Therefore, in accordance with Article 3 of the Federal Law “On Environmental Protection in the Russian federation”:
“Article 3. Basic principles of environmental protection…
- Presumption of environmental danger resulting from planned economic or other activities;
- Priority of preserving natural ecological systems, natural landscapes and natural complexes;
- Preservation of biological diversity;
- Prohibition of economic and other activities whose consequences, and impact are unpredictable for the environment as well as (prohibition of) implementation of projects which might lead to degradation of natural ecological systems, alteration and/or extermination of genofond of plants, animals and other organisms, exhaustion of natural resources and other negative changes of the environment;
- Participation of citizens, social and other non-commercial associations in environmental problem-solving”.
We request you, hereby, to interfere and, acting in a supervisory capacity of the Procurator’s Office, check on observation of the environmental legislation of the Russian Federation by federal power bodies in the process of decision making about validity of issuing licenses to carry out prospecting and capacity evaluation and other operations in the Ob and Taz bays, and, for the period of checking procedures, suspend industrial activities in these maine areas.
President of the Association
Enclosed: as indicated above.