Environmental Groups Urge Exxon Executive to Re-route Sakhalin I Oil Pipeline
By Pacific Environment | San Francisco, US, Jul 9 2008
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
"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
"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.
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.