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Sakhalin Environment Watch sent a letter to the Sakhalin Region branches of the Russian Technical Oversight Agency Rostekhnadzor) and Federal Service for the Supervision of Natural Resource Use (Rosprirodnadzor) with a request to not to use the main Sakhalin-II pipelines. This request came after public inspections once more revealed violations that increase the risk of oil spills.
Sakhalin Environment Watch and experts from the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences Far East Geological Institute examined Sakhalin Energy’s pipeline routes several times in May-September 2009 and detected hazardous geological processes. These include rain-induced landslides and mudflows along the pipeline route, which traverses several river valleys in the Makarov and Poronaisk districts. Due to flooding and soil erosion, a 10-meter section of an underground oil pipe was exposed on the Gornaya River. Mudflows on the slopes of the Zhdanko Ridge in the Travyanaya River basin, a critical salmon spawning area, a gaping 1.5 meter-deep gully has formed in the pipeline route.
On September 27-28, 2009, representatives from our organization conducted the fourth landslide and erosion control inspection in six months along the Sakhalin-II project pipeline routes in the Makarovskiy District. We determined that continued erosion along Travyanaya River tributaries and lack of adequate erosion measures in this area have resulted in increased ravine depth (3.2 meters) under gas and oil pipes. On the Solyanka River, floods are eroding the banks and sweeping coastal protection structures into the current. Coastal protection structures have been installed along approximately 30 meters of the riverbank. Nothing has changed since our first visit to this site in May 2009; no measures have been taken to restore the integrity of these structures. Erosion has formed a 1.2-1.5 meter-deep ravine on the Gar River that causes coastal protection structures to deformation and distortion. Further along the pipeline route, a bare fiber optic cable – part of the oil and gas pipeline flow control system – sags over the river channel.
In early August, the Sakhalin Rosprirodnadzor inspected the Sakhalin II project pipeline and identified a number of violations. Consequently, the administration issued an injunction requiring Sakhalin Energy to fix the violations; however, public environmental inspections revealed that two months later, most of the violations had not been eliminated. As of September 28, of all rivers where Sakhalin Environment Watch staff observed dangerous geological processes, only the Gornaya River area crossing has been restored.
Sakhalin-II pipelines cross hundreds of spawning rivers while pumping millions of tons of oil and billions of cubic meters of natural gas under high pressure. Lack of sufficient protection from developing hazardous geological processes creates a high risk of damage to pipelines and, as a result, oil spill or gas leak. Despite the actual operation of pipelines and oil and LNG (liquefied natural gas) export throughout the year, Rostekhnadzor has not yet issued a certificate of approval stating that constructed facility meets technical regulation requirements, which means it may not be operated.
Rostekhnadzor recently announced the results of an investigation into the cause of the accident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant, which operated for 21 years without receiving the technical regulation certification required for operation. The relevant certificate of approval was signed only in 2000, and contained many adjustments that still needed to be modified when the turbine hall flooded in August 2009, tragically killing 75. This example creates great concern for the safety of Sakhalin-II project industrial facilities, which have been operating for the past year without this safety certification. Moreover, the risks of technological accidents along the pipeline are increasing, yet the project operator fails to take adequate measures.
Environmentalists hope that the government authorities will do everything possible to bring the Sakhalin-II pipelines in line with statutory requirements. Sakhalin Environment Watch will continue monitoring the situation on the pipeline route.