|Aleksey Knizhnikov, WWF Russia, + 7 (495) 727 0939, firstname.lastname@example.org
Doug Norlen, Pacific Environment +1 (202) 465 1650, email@example.com
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Twelve US, Russian and international environmental
organizations sent a letter today to Exxon Chief Executive Rex
Tillerson urging the company to re-route a proposed pipeline away from
herding grounds vital for indigenous people and around a bay that is
vital for a critically endangered whale population in Russia (see copy
of letter below). If the pipeline is built according to current plans,
two indigenous groups' livelihoods will be severely harmed and the
Western Gray Whale will be further threatened with extinction,
according to the groups and several independent reviews.
In Phase Two of the Sakhalin I pipeline, Exxon proposes to build an oil pipeline across the enormous Piltun Lagoon, which provides vital sustenance for the critically endangered Western Gray Whale. The Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel and two Public Expert Environmental Reviews have expressed strong concerns about the pipeline's impacts on the whales and have urged that the pipeline be rerouted around Piltun Lagoon. The expert Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel stated:
"Given the precarious state of the western gray whale population, a precautionary approach is essential. We suggest that it would be preferable to develop an alternative option, such as rerouting of the pipeline, to eliminate the potential for disruption of key processes of biological productivity within the Lagoon."
Environmental organizations point to additional expert reviews that concur with the international Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel:
"In addition to the Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel, two additional reviews by independent Russian experts have recommended that Exxon show some precaution and re-route the proposed pipeline around Piltun Lagoon," said Aleksey Knizhnikov, Oil & Gas Environmental Policy Officer, WWF Russia.
The environmental groups' letter to Exxon's Tillerson also challenges a proposal to build an ice dam across Piltun Lagoon to facilitate pipeline construction. According to the letter:
...[P]roject plans put the fish reserves and entire living ecosystem of Piltun Bay at great risk because the proposed ice bridge, which will act as a dam, will interrupt the natural water exchange between the Sea of Okhotsk and the large, northern part of the bay during the winter and spring of 2008-2009. Close to 2/3 of the bay will be artificially isolated from sea water for several months, until the summer sun finally melts the ice dam.
The environmental groups' letter also urges Tillerson to re-route the proposed pipeline away from areas used by subsistence indigenous reindeer herders. According to the letter:
[The pipeline] is intended to cross the most important summer reindeer pastures and calving grounds on the island, which have been traditionally used, and are used to this day by a community of herders including both native Uilta and Evenki peoples. You should be aware that the infrastructure previously built by Exxon on Chaivo Bay has already done enormous damage to the reindeer pastures and calving grounds, and from 2001 to 2006 the domestic reindeer herd shrank by approximately 40% due to a rising number of miscarriages and a falling birth rate. If the planned Piltun pipeline is built through the summer reindeer pastures and calving grounds, the reindeer herds will potentially be decimated, and the Uilta and Evenki peoples risk losing both their livelihoods and their traditional way of life.
The environmental groups are challenging Exxon to change the pipeline route to avoid these impacts and in so doing decrease political risks associated with the project:
"Around the world Exxon is being challenged to be more responsive to environmental concerns. Sakhalin I is an example of a project where Exxon can reduce project impacts while lowering project risks in this politically unstable environment," said Doug Norlen, Policy Director, Pacific Environment.
The proposed Sakhalin I pipeline, on Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East, is proposed by Exxon Neftegas Ltd., a project operating company managed by Exxon.
 The Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel includes world-class scientific experts specializing in whales and marine conservation, The panel was established by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to review the impacts of oil and gas projects in the Sakhalin area on the critically endangered Western Gray Whale. Since the WGWAP's creation, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Export Credit Agencies of the US and UK have withdrawn from consideration billions of dollars in potential financing for the nearby Sakhalin II project. Among scientists, the WGWAP continues to be viewed as a kind of ‘supreme court' of scientific review of the health of, and impacts to the Western Gray Whale.