Stakeholders and public discuss technical tasks to complete a true environmental analysis of the Shtokman project

Publish date: August 29, 2010

Written by: Anna Kireeva

Translated by: Charles Digges

TERIBERKA, Northwest Russia – In the ramshackle gymnasium of an unheated school in this village near Murmansk, Shtokman AG met with the public this week to discuss aspects of the Environmental, Social and Health Impact Assessment (ESHIA) and to gather opinion from locals on the Shtokman oil field project, which will impact this small hamlet profoundly.

The Shtokman field, which has been Russia’s natural gas holy grail for the last several years, lies off the coast of Russia’s Kola Peninsula, home to the Murmansk Region. The undersea field, which is situated in delicate Arctic environmental conditions is projected to hold some 3.2 trillion cubic meters of gas and 31 million tons of gas condensate. Shokman AG, the company that will work the field is comprised of Russian state gas Giant, France’s Total, and Norway’s Statoil – an affiliation strongly opposed by Bellona.

Last Thursday’s meeting was not the first time Shtokman AG and the pubic have rubbed shoulders. But it is the first time they discussed a formal ESHIA, which is somewhat analogous to a Russian state required environmental impact study (OVOS in it’s Russian abbreviation), which, for the Shtokman project, has already been savaged by scientists and environmentalists, whose harsh critiques where noted – and sent on to a state environmental  expertise review.

An ESHIA is a requirement of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to receive funding for projects it lends money to, and Teriberka residents, representatives of the local administration and other interested stakeholders where invited to take part in a discussion of the ESHIA’s technological targets at the school house.

Even though an OVOS and an ESHIA are at first glance similar, there are significant differences between the two documents. Both documents compile data on a given project. But an ESHIA focuses the bulk of its attention on more ecologically sensitive and vulnerable areas to be affected.  

An ESHIA report, as distinct from an OVOS report, is intended for a wider audience beyond a narrow scope of specialists. It puts in layman’s terms and in a more general perspective the specifics of a project with an accent on developing methods to avoid negatively impacting the environment.

Additionally, and different from an OVOS, an ESHIA report devotes more attention to aspects in the spheres of the social, biodiversity, trans-border impacts, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change for any given large scale project.

“It is evident that the company is more closely approaching the development of an international variant of an OVOS, which is the demand of international financial structures,” said energy projects coordinator for Bellona Murmansk, Nina Lesikhina.

“During the development of the Russian OVOS (…) the public did not even have the chance to discuss the technical goals,” said Lesikhina.  

The Shtokman project and the life of Teriberka

“I am happy to welcome you our blooming village,” Teriberka Mayor Valery Yarntsev said in his opening words at the EHSIA meeting. According to him, this is by far not the first meeting or expression of interest in this project of residents. But with each meeting the hopes of the population that the project will bring positive changes in their lives is less and less.

According to Herve Madeo, deputy executive director of Shtokman AG, “It is an important event when we are able to listen to the opinion of all interested parties,” he said, adding “It is the task of Shtokman AG to integrate the Shtokman project into the life and natural conditions of Teriberka.”

At the meeting, locals were perturbed by the fact that they have for several years come to such meeting where they are fed only promises. Since 2007, when Teriberka voted for the project, nothing in the village’s life has changed.

“We cannot at the moment take any concrete measures – building roads, repairing infrastructure, and so on, until an investment plan is adopted,” said Madeo, and asked that those present wait until March 2011 when the final fate of the Shtokman project will be defined.

“It is difficult for us to believe what is being promised. On that, while developing the project, they have not destroyed anything in the village that is still here today,” one 40-year-old woman in Teriberka told Bellona Web. 

Recommendations to the EHSIA documentation

On the whole, the recommendations offered the EHSIA document were very similar to those offered to the Russian OVOS by scientists, environmentalists, and local residents.

Representatives from the Murmansk Oceanographic Biology Institute (MMBI in its Russian abbreviation), the geological  engineering survey work has not been done to completion and does not reflect the current environmental conditions. “But it’s too late, the OVOS has already gone on to the state environmental expertise, and all of our remarks remained with us,” said one scientist.

Anatoly Yevenko, chairman of the steering group for he Association of Coastal Industrial Fisheries and Farmers of the Murmansk Region, called the project “beautiful candy in bright wrapping.” According to Yevenko, the project’s development will impact fishing, especially coastal fishing and, therefore, coastal fishermen must be fully involved in the project’s realization.

Environmental groups who were present at the meeting also announced their recommendation for the EHSIA report. According to Bellona Murmansk, the document must contain substantiation for the choice of the current design of the project among all the other reviewed alternatives, including refusing to host the project.

“It is very important in an environmental evaluation of a project to include a probabilistic evaluation of emergency situations and their consequences,” said Lesikhina. “The tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico shows what kind of catastrophic consequences for the environment and society that underestimating the probability of a large accident can have,” she said. The BP spill that began off the coast of the US state of Louisiana spilled 204 million gallons of oil beginning in April, making it the largest accidental oil spill in world history.

Lesikhina also noted that an evaluation of the impact of climate change and the implementation of Russia’s national climate policies project might have on the project must be added to the report, as well as a study of means on how to minimize the impact of climate change.  

Speaking at the end of the meeting, Medeo said that all remarks and wishes were attentively noted and will be taken into consideration.

“I cannot say that our company is the best in the world, but we do what is possible for it to be the best in the world,” he said with a smile to all the meetings participants who had spent several houses in an old, chilly school gymnasium sitting on wooden benches that had no backs.