Shell’s Sakhalin II gas & oil project in far eastern Russia has disrupted the social and economic fabric of local communities, including indigenous communities and local fishermen. Rare and endangered species are being threatened with extinction, including the Western Pacific Gray Whale and Stellar’s Sea Eagle. Shell’s pipeline stretches from the northern tip of Sakhalin Island to Aniva Bay in the south – undermining Sakhalin’s fragile ecosystems. Given the state of the project already, future social and environmental impacts will likely be nothing short of disastrous.
On 8 September 2004, a Sakhalin II-contracted dredging vessel ran aground on rocks at Kholmsk, Sakhalin Island, spilling approximately 1,300 barrels of fuel oil along 5 kilometres of coast and leaving local residents ill. This Category 2 spill could have been much bigger, and the consortium’s botched response showed environmental groups’ criticism of Shell’s ineffectual oil spill prevention and response plan to be well founded.Spill response equipment for Sakhalin II was stored at the opposite end of Sakhalin island, many hundred kilometres away. Spill specialists did not even examine the spill until nine hours after the accident, and actual cleanup efforts began eighteen hours after the spill. It was 48 hours before booms were in place to contain the spill 8 – something that should have happened within a few hours.
Shell has yet to publish an Oil Spill Response Plan. Furthermore, the sea is frozen up for 6 months of the year. It remains highly unlikely that Shell will have an effective plan on how to respond if the spill takes place under the ice.
Damage to fish resources
On March 20, 2005, The Observer newspaper exposed severe violations of pipeline construction requirements for Sakhalin II. The Observer’s front page business section expose included leaked pictures of reckless construction – pipeline right-of-ways slashing through forests and turning streams muddy brown – which show that the company’s actions in the field betray its stated commitment to sustainable development.
Fishing, the centuries-old economic base of the island for indigenous people, and now also for commercial and sport users, depends on clean spawning streams, which are now compromised by Shell’s construction. As The Observer also notes, the dangers from Shell’s plan to dump 2.3 million cubic metres of dredging waste into the rich fisheries of Aniva Bay will negatively impact crabs, shrimps, scallops, sea urchins and other fisheries resources.
Also, in August 2004, the Shell-led Sakhalin Energy Company announced the prohibition of salmon fishing in waters bordering the construction site of its liquid natural gas plant (LNG) in Sakhalin Island’s Aniva Bay. The decision to ban fishing in the area led local fishermen to protest by blocking the LNG factory road with cars loaded with fishing nets. Fishing constitutes the largest element of Sakhalin Island’s economy, and restricting the available waters for fishing will have major social impacts.
In January 2005, local indigenous peoples’ groups began public protests against Sakhalin II. The indigenous peoples on Sakhalin Island – who include the Nivkh, Uilta, Evenk and Nanai ethnic groups – practice a traditional subsistence economy based on fishing, hunting, reindeer herding and wild plant gathering, which will be badly damaged by the destruction of reindeer pastures and forests, and the decline of fish stocks.
The groups state that they have not been properly consulted or informed of the details of the project, and that the project has not performed required studies of project impacts on indigenous peoples. These indigenous groups demand an independent cultural impact assessment and compensation fund for a Sakhalin indigenous peoples.
The governor of Sakhalin Island has raised numerous concerns regarding Sakhalin II, including highlighting data from oversight bodies. In early 2006, the labor department announced that 24 monitoring visits had found 115 violations of labor law. The Russian Federal Economic Inspection Agency conducted 155 monitoring visits, and found 97 violations.