Questionable vote could put liquid natural gas plant in Murmansk Region

Anna Kireeva/Bellona

Publish date: September 7, 2007

Written by: Anna Kireeva

MURMANSK - The 200 residents of the remote Murmansk Region village of Teriberka voted unanimously in favor of letting Russian gas behemoth Gazprom construct a liquid natural gas (LNG) plant in their town, despite a crucial lack of experience on Gazprom’s behalf with running such plants.

The single functioning LNG plant in Russia is located on the remote Far East Sakhalin Island.

Gazprom’s zeal to develop LNG facilities in Northwest Russia is explained by the anticipated mother lode of oil and gas to be pumped out of the Shtokman field, located underwater off Russia’s northern Arctic coast.

The deposit is thought to house some 20 percent of the world’s untapped oil and gas reserves, and the government connected gas giant is pulling out all the stops to get drilling underway, including promising the moon to inhabitants of rural areas where the company will be building environmentally questionable facilities to cash in on the expected boom.

Two years ago, Teberka residents refused to take part in any voting to let Gazprom build an LNG facility, citing their untied opposition to having the plant as their new neighbor. This time around, however, the company has sugar-coated the deal for locals of the dying village by promising them modern daycare centres, schools, sports facilities, supermarkets, multifamily housing, and projections of doubled incomes for the municipality and 200 well-paid jobs.

To boot, no one will have to give up their homes, as the plant will be built a good distance from the village.

Environmental safety concerns

Environmental impact concern, however are immediate, and Gazprom’s laundry list of promises did not include any safety measures to ensure a clean build.

“To minimize the negative effects of the LNG plant on the natural environment and the local population, ecologically safe and energy efficient technologies need to be applied during construction and operation of the plant”, says Nina Lesikhina, Energy Coordinator for Bellona-Murmansk.
The organization has prepared a document on the shortcomings of the project.

Environmental concerns stonewalled at vote

During this most recent vote for the villagers, moderators paid very little attention to environmental safety issues, referring only to the obligatory environmental monitoring that should be conducted.

The hearing did not address the effects the plant will have on the atmosphere, the aquatic environment, land resources, plants and animals during its construction and operation.

Experience shows that accidents and failures at LNG plants cannot always be avoided. In Algeria, for example, 27 people died and 56 were wounded after a powerful explosion on an LNG plant in the Prot of Skikda in January 2004.

Nikolai Bichuk, chairman of the Murmansk region Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Committee, said in an interview with the newspaper Murmansk Vestnik that the residents of Teriberka have nothing to fear from the plant.

“One similar plant already exists in the Norwegian town of Hammerfest, also located in the far north. Moreover, that plant is built on islands in a water protection zone, which would not be possible according to Russian laws. It nevertheless fulfills all environmental requirements”, he said.

The estimated operating lifespan of the Kola Peninsula LNG plant is 50 years, but none of the Gazprom representatives present at the hearing could answer the question of how and by whom the plant will be decommissioned. What is more, the project developers are already sure that the plant will stay in operation longer than planned, considering the large number of undeveloped gas deposits on the Russian Arctic shelf.

Choice of site

Now the company has to decide on where to build the plant: in Teriberka or in Vidyayevo, where the inhabitants are also in favor of the project.
Vidyayevo is situated further away from the Stockman deposit, but has the infrastructure – like roads – that Teriberka does not.

Vidyayevo, as a Russian naval base, is situated in a closed zone, which is one disadvantage that Gazprom officials will also have to weigh. Both sites, however, are prone to seismic activity.

”If we are speaking about the gas pipeline that will run from the plant, I would give preference to Teriberka from an environmental viewpoint,” said Bichuk in reference to the possibility of tremors.

“If the gas pipeline ran from Vidyayevo, it would intersect several large rivers, including Tuloma and Kola. Harmful impact on these rivers can be avoided if the pipeline is drawn from Teriberka.”

LNG plants in the world

Liquefied natural gas consists mainly of methane, which is liquefied by the means of cooling and compression. Natural gas is liquefied for ease of storing and transporting.

LNG plants are today operated in many countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Arab Emirates, the United States and others. Besides the plant already operating on Sakhalin and the one planned for the Murmansk region, Russia could build more.