Watching the World: Putin’s word on ecology

Aug. 15, 2005
Oil prospectors in Russia’s West Kamchatka region are breathing easier after a favorable decision by the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy city court.

Oil prospectors in Russia’s West Kamchatka region are breathing easier after a favorable decision by the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy city court.

On Aug. 9, the court upheld an appeal by the regional prosecutor’s office to cancel an Oct. 23 referendum aimed at preventing oil development on the West Kamchatka shelf.

The prosecutor’s office said the court had supported its claim that “lawmakers are not authorized to resolve this issue as it is under the jurisdiction of federal bodies of power.”

In particular, the court agreed that questions included in the proposed referendum did not comply with Article 12 of Russia’s federal law “on the basic guarantees of electoral rights and the right of Russian citizens to take part in referendums.”

Clarity coming

The prosecutor’s office said a statement clarifying the ruling would be available in the court on Aug. 15 even as the group that initiated the referendum said it would appeal and was “ready to fight to the end”-whatever that might mean.

The decision to hold a referendum was taken at an extraordinary session of the Council of People’s Deputies of the Kamchatka Region in June.

Deputies of the regional council believe that development of oil and gas fields on the West Kamchatka shelf will cause huge economic losses to local fisheries.

At the time, the council’s deputy chairman, Marat Gagiyev, said the prosecutor had lodged a protest over their proposed referendum. But the deputies rejected the prosecutor’s protest because it arrived just the previous day.

The battle actually has been under way since March, when the deputies appealed to the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office with a request to review the legality of exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons offWest Kamchatka by OAO Rosneft.

Legal wrangles

Rosneft is the license holder for the development of the Veninskiy sector-the Sakhalin-3 project-and a segment of the West Kamchatka shelf. The shelf’s probable reserves are estimated at 900 million tonnes of crude oil.

In fact, the deputies wanted a review of Rosneft’s compliance with several Russian laws: “On the continental shelf of the Russian Federation,” “On subsoils,” and “On environmental expert review.”

The deputies also wanted the Prosecutor-General’s Office to verify that Rosneft’s exploration plans for 2005 had been approved by the relevant state bodies, public organizations, and local governmental bodies.

When the prosecutor’s office turned down their appeal, the deputies launched their plan for the referendum.

“No one can forbid us to allow people to express their views. Power is invested above all with the people, and the people have a right to express their will,” Gagiyev said in June.

But that was before the now-famous statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin: “Ecological expertise must not hinder the development of the country and the economy.”

I guess the court and prosecutor in West Kamchatka got Putin’s message. By now, I guess, the deputies and local people have the word, too.