Photo: nature and youth
As part of the Gazprom Promgaz plan, a gas main will be laid from Teriberka to Volkhov, near the city of Murmansk, from which gas will be supplied through a number of branch lines to eighteen municipalities of the region.
Authorities in Murmansk say gas supplies offer a number of economic boons for the region. A gas pipeline project from the enormous Shtokman gas field developed by Gazprom on the shelf of the Barents Sea means thousands of construction jobs, as well as large industrial enterprises and even entire cities switching to gas as a source of energy. In expert estimates, the region may consume around 2.5 billion cubic metres of gas annually.
When the project is completed, 90 percent of the Murmansk Region is expected to be able to avail itself of gas deliveries. All costs are borne by Gazprom through its Gazprom Promgaz subsidiary, which in the past six years has been promoting gas distribution across Russia’s regions as part of the head company’s programme for national gas supply and distribution organisation.
Between 2005 and 2007, says Gazprom Promgaz official website, Gazprom invested RUR 43bn ($1.45 billion) into the programme, provided gas supplies and infrastructure to 1,200 communities, 4.4 million apartments and households, and built 543 infrastructure sites with a total length of over 8,000 kilometres.
This programme also means Gazprom will be responsible for building gas mains – such as the 1,356-kilometre pipeline that will stretch from the village of Teriberka to Volkhov. Teriberka, located on the shore of the Barents Sea in the northernmost part of the Kola Peninsula, is already projected to host a liquefied natural gas plant as part of the Shtokman development. According to the Ministry of Energy, the Teriberka-Volkhov line will likely be completed by 2013 and, besides supplying gas to Russia’s Northwest, is also planned to become one of the links to provide export gas deliveries through Nord Stream – a controversial project that sees a major gas pipeline laid across the Baltic Sea to bring Russian gas to Western Europe.
Branch lines delivering gas to and between Murmansk communities will also be on Gazprom’s expense sheets, though local administrations will have to pay for infrastructure built within the limits of the region’s towns and settlements.
Gazprom earlier had already settled the project with Murmansk’s municipalities. Gas deliveries may at least be in the immediate financial interest of the region: Many cities on the Kola Peninsula are dependent on fuel oil, which is not cheap. For instance, Monchegorsk, which will be in direct vicinity of the pipeline, is planning to switch to centralised gas heating to save on expensive fuel oil supplies.
In other municipalities, gas supplies and the pipeline projects may prompt better industrial developments. These are districts where there are few industrial enterprises, or none at all, but which have capacities and resources to offer. For instance, the area around Kandalaksha, on the shore of the White Sea, may have certain economic prospects to tie its future hopes to when gas comes to the city – such as the involvement of Kandalaksha sea commercial port, which may be instrumental in attracting investors. According to local administration, there are unoccupied wharves at the port and room to have more available if the need arises.
Yet, not all of the region’s residents are jubilant about their gas prospects, looking cautiously at the ecological risks the project may entail. In August 2008, environmental activists from Russia, Norway, and Finland staged in the city of Apatity a public protest against plans to lay the Teriberka-Volkhov main across the Khibins, a mountain range that the ecologists insisted should be turned into a national park. Fourteen Norwegian and Finnish nationals were detained by immigration authorities as a result.
Environmentalists’ concerns are not without merit. Regardless of the route, the Teriberka-Volkhov pipeline will translate into felling forests, laying new roads, digging new quarries to supply construction materials, building temporary settlements for construction workers, installing new pump stations, and spanning the region’s rivers and streams with bridges – all in the conditions of the vulnerable Russian north.
“The northern environment will inevitably come under the negative impact of the construction and future operation of the gas pipeline,” said Bellona-Murmansk’s energy projects coordinator, Nina Lesikhina.
Digging trenches for the pipeline will lead to a significant rise in turbidity of the salmon-rich rivers of the Kola Peninsula, and a large part of the spawning grounds may end up covered with silt, Lesikhina explained. Furthermore, hydraulic engineering works may result in altering the topography of the river bottom, which, in turn, will threaten the existing biotopes. These biotopes are crucial to the preservation of the ecosystem’s food chains and play an important role in processes involved in self-purification of the rivers, said Lesikhina.
There are other potential risks to consider if the pipeline project gains ground. The Kola Peninsula is an Arctic region, and as such, it is highly susceptible to climate change and reductions in the extent of permafrost caused by global warming. A thawing permafrost is a palpable threat to the integrity of any infrastructure built in the polar latitudes.
In the past ten years, ground subsidence due to a thawing permafrost has intensified, reaching between 14 percent and as much as 80 percent in certain regions of the Russian Arctic. Changes in the permafrost have already led to damages in buildings and other structures, and the trend is forecast to exacerbate further as global mean temperatures are expected to rise, all spelling serious challenges to confront future oil and gas projects in Russia’s north.
For now, the implementation of the Murmansk gas supply programme is heavily contingent on the development of the Shtokman field itself, which is a highly complex and dicey technological endeavour. Further steps will depend on the rate of pipeline construction and infrastructure development on the side of the consumer, as well as the adoption of necessary legislative changes and amendments to the local tax code. In latest estimations, Murmansk Region may be all settled to receive steady gas supplies by 2025.