Watching the World: A sea of trouble

April 11, 2005
It’s a whale of a story in a sea of trouble: Sakhalin Energy Investment Co.

It’s a whale of a story in a sea of trouble: Sakhalin Energy Investment Co. has announced it will move oil pipelines in Russia’s Far East in an effort to protect the last of 100 western gray whales. SEIC said the pipelines, which link two production platforms in Piltun-Astokhskoye field off Sakhalin Island to the shore, will be moved 20 km south of the original location, away from the key feeding area of the endangered whales.

The decision was based on an independent scientific review panel (ISRP) convened at SEIC’s request by the World Conservation Union to evaluate the science underlying the potential impacts on the whale and the effectiveness of the company’s planned mitigation measures.

“The ISRP’s report, which was published last month, called for a conservative risk-management approach,” SEIC said, explaining its reasons for moving the pipelines.

Faint praise

The move has won only hedged praise from environmental groups.

“We are satisfied that Sakhalin Energy showed its willingness to cooperate with international NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and to reroute the pipeline,” said Maria Vorontsova, director of the Russian branch of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. But happy as she may be over the pipeline move, Vorontsova said, “We believe further steps have to be undertaken by SEIC to secure the future of the endangered western gray whales.”

In particular, she said the group is calling on Sakhalin Energy “to move the platform further away from the whales’ feeding grounds.” That view was shared and expanded on by James Leaton, an extractive policies officer for the World Wildlife Fund.

“Location alternatives have only been considered for the offshore pipeline, not for the platform. The majority of the whale panel’s concerns remain outstanding regarding location, oil spill response, ship-whale collisions, sedimentation, noise, and cumulative impacts.”

SEIC holds course

But SEIC does not plan to budge on the platform.

In a statement, SEIC said, “Following a review of its original site selection, the location of the second platform in the Piltun-Astokhskoye field-the PA-B platform-will not be changed.”

SEIC CEO Ian Craig explained, “We must minimize subsurface and blowout risks, and this steers us to the location we have chosen. The platform is 7 km away from the edge of the feeding area, and we are confident our mitigation measures can offset the potential impacts.”

More to the point, Craig said, “There has been no discernable change of behavior in or impact on the western gray whales from our operations at the existing Piltun platform, which has been producing oil since 1999.”

The story does not end there.

Even as SEIC made its announcement, Sakhalin islanders discovered a huge amount of debris that appeared to have been dumped by subcontractors in a shallow bay crucial to the island’s vital fishing industry.

Dutifully enough, SEIC organized a dive to find out how the mountain of debris came to be dumped there.