Construction of a new oil terminal and a pipeline to Russia might affect the Black Sea ecology
the Black Sea ecosystem is threatened by a project to build a pipeline to transport oil to the sea shores from Kazakhstan through southern Russia. Some of the largest oil companies of the world are involved in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium ( cpc ), a us $2-billion project that is being termed as the "project of the century". Work on the pipeline is scheduled to begin later this year and finish by the end of 1999.
The project would transport oil from the Tengiz oil fields in Kazakhstan to the Black Sea. Oil from this region is known to be extremely volatile and saturated with sulphur. It can produce poisonous gases and explosive compounds when exposed to air. The pipeline would terminate on the shores of the Black Sea close to the Abravski nature reserve -- slated to become a national Russian biosphere reserve -- near Novorossisk, the largest oil port in Russia.
The cpc plans to build its own oil terminal in the heart of the Abravski nature reserve houses the Asian Wild Ass, the Great Bustard, and 66 endangered plant species identified by the Russian government. To accommodate the families of nearly 1,000, a small city would have to be built close to the terminal. This would have a major impact on the ecology of the reserve.
Moreover, the Black Sea is a closed aquatic ecosystem. Oil spills -- the prospect of which can hardly be ignored -- would pose a major threat to the marine ecology. None of the seven nations that have shorelines on the Black Sea have made preparations to deal with the situation that might arise following a large oil spill. Any oil spill might cause irreparable damage.
The people of the region are not oblivious to the consequences of the project. Locals have joined hands with 12 non-governmental organisations and political groups to protest against the project. They had written a letter to the Russian premier Viktor Chernomyrdin, stating their opposition to the project.
"The billions of dollars that this consortium has at its disposal are intended to be shared by others who are not local. What will be left for us who live here will be lethally poisonous gases, the sulphides, the constant threat of toxic spills and explosions, the destruction of protected shorelines and forests, the pollution of our drinking water, not to mention the severe impacts that the process of constructing a pipeline and a new oil terminal will bring," said the letter.
In 1993, regional offices of the Russian ministry of nature protection wrote a memo opposing the construction of the terminal within the nature reserve. In January 1997, the Russian deputy minister of fuel and energy wrote back to the Greens of Novorossisk, a local environmental organisation. He pointed out that his ministry supported the construction of the new terminal within the boundaries of the reserve. The minister said: "The location of the terminal has been approved with the consent of the local state government and has the blessings of leading government scientists."
Local environmental groups point out that this is a violation of Russian law. As the interests of the local people are directly involved, they argue that the major oil companies that have stakes in the project should not be given a free hand in the region. The fate of the region's ecology and that of the locals is at stake. And time is running out for a positive solution to be implemented before the terminal and the pipeline become a reality.
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