MURMANSK – A public hearing focussed on a reconnaissance programme for the future development of the Shtokman natural gas field took place in Murmansk Region in mid-September. By March 2010, research documentation for the entire project should be completed, followed by an investment decision, which should set the date for the start of construction works.
On September 15th and 16th 2009, Shtokman Development AG – the company responsible for the financial, geological, and technical risk management of the Shtokman field in the Barents Sea, while exploration and future production is licensed to the Russian gas giant Gazprom – held public hearings to discuss a reconnaissance programme expected to pave the way for the development of a transport and technological complex to be built in the Teriberka, a settlement located on the Barents Sea coast 120 kilometres northeast of the regional centre of Murmansk.
The reconnaissance programme, to be carried out in 2009 and 2010, will yield necessary data on soil profile, bottom topography, and potential discovery of large objects. The hearings were conducted in Teriberka and also in Kola, a municipal centre which holds administrative jurisdiction over Teriberka.
The discussion centred on a series of environmental protection measures expected to be in place to offset potential damage from the engineering works undertaken as part of the reconnaissance programme for the development of the Shtokman field, one of the world’s largest natural gas fields. An environmental impact assessment was done on the project by Moscow-based FRECOM, an independent Russian consultancy working in the sector of professional environmental protection and industrial safety services. FRECOM has had experience performing similar assessments for the Kovykta gas field and the Prirazlomnoye oil field, in East Siberia and the Barents Sea, respectively.
The engineering exploratory studies will be carried out by AMIGE, a company specialising in conducting reconnaissance projects on the shelf of Arctic seas. The Russian acronym in the company’s name stands for “Arctic Marine Engineering and Geological Expeditions.”
Around 50 people in Teriberka and 30 more in Kola took part in the hearings, including representatives of public ecological organisations and bodies of municipal governance, as well as envoys from the Murmansk Marine Biological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Kola Scientific Centre, or MMBI, and from PINRO, or Polar Scientific Research Institute of Marine Fishery and Oceanography. In Teriberka, local residents also were present at the hearing and complained that information on the planned event had appeared just days before it took place. In Kola, participants did not include locals at all.
Ecological impact risks associated with the reconnaissance programme and highlighted during the hearing would be expected to come from atmospheric pollution emitted by transport traffic, flushing of domestic sewage and wastewaters into the sea, generation of various kinds of industrial waste, and an increase in the level of water turbidity and damage to the sea bottom as a result of drilling – consequences threatening to kill the area’s plankton, which provides food for the sea’s fish populations.
“The factual duration of environmental impact will be around 60 days, but because of adverse weather conditions, a more prolonged period of works is earmarked – the second half of the summer, the autumn and the winter,” said at the hearing Dmitry Shakhin, a representative of FRECOM’s.
Yury Potapkin, an AMIGE representative, noted that all waste generated during the reconnaissance studies will be taken to Murmansk for reprocessing.
“Industrial liquids will not be used during the drilling, only seawater, which will make the process more environmentally friendly,” Potapkin said. “The only significant damage to the ecosystem will be inflicted as a result of using low-frequency signals during the seismic acoustics studies, which leads to the peril of living organisms within a radius of one metre.”
It was exactly the estimations of risks to fishing resources that prompted a barrage of questions from representatives of the Murmansk Marine Biological Institute. Scientists presented a number of objections, calling the authors of the environmental impact study to task for a lack of substantiated assessments of impact to the biota, distortions in the calculations of risks associated with using the profiler – or profile recording equipment, a seismo-acoustic device that provides information on the geological structure of the seafloor and sediments – and, by extension, the insignificant compensation payments that would be expected. They said the study was overall one of inferior quality.
Photo: Nina Lesikhina/Bellona
“What we are talking about is not project documentation, but protection of the environment in which people live,” MMBI’s Pavel Makarevich said. “We absolutely disagree with the results of the environmental impact study and with the assessments of the cost of damage in particular.”
In MMBI representatives’ opinion, damage costs must be re-evaluated and a temporary freeze put on the reconnaissance works while a more thorough study is carried out.
Questions and doubts with regard to environmental safety followed from Teriberka residents, as well. Locals spoke of slicks of fuel oil that they had spotted already last summer spreading around AMIGE’s vessels. AMIGE representatives flatly denied any part in this, saying only that systematic operational and environmental monitoring is in place throughout the duration of works its specialists have been conducting at sea.
“What is important here is not only public participation in the process of discussing every stage of the Shtokman project – something that is provided for by law – but making considerations for the opinions of everyone concerned, both within public and scientific organisations and among ordinary citizens,” said Nina Lesikhina, energy projects ccordiator for Bellona’s office in Murmansk.
“This project is an extremely complicated one, and the lack of technologies or experience working in such severe climate and weather conditions elevates ecological risks exponentially. We must be reminded of the uniqueness and importance of the Arctic ecosystem when making technological decisions, because sea is worth more than oil,” Lesikhina said.