[Our correspondent in Russia recently discovered that the border town of Vyborg near St. Petersburg was going to hold discreet (practically secret) public hearings on Gazprom’s mega-project, the Nord Stream pipeline, to discuss the social and environmental impact of the initiative. Read the first article in the series here.] If you’ve heard, does that mean you approve? – Part 2 A report from the public hearings in Vyborg on the Nord Stream pipeline construction project By Grigory Pasko, journalist The hearings were opened by the chairman of the administration, Oleg Likhovidov. He reminded that an event of such a kind is taking place already for the fourth time. Moreover, he reminded in such a tone that it seemed like what he really wanted to say was: How I wish all these formalities were over with already. Irina Vasilieva very ably – evidently for the hundredth time already – clarified for those gathered the significance of the gas pipeline for the toilers of western countries in need of Russian gas. She also mentioned the prospects for the development of the Shtokman field, and about the usefulness of the project for Russia (tax receipts). “We are striving to be the most open project”, the company’s advisor for community relations said sincerely.
I believed her. Because from the very beginning, the North European Gas Pipeline project ran up against a mass of such obstacles that all the brazenness of the organizers of the project – the Russian monopolist «Gazprom» and its companions – the German concerns E.ON Ruhrgas AG and BASF AG – disappeared quite quickly. The project turned out to be in the very attentive crosshairs of nine countries of the Baltic region, and indeed of many countries of Europe as well. Therefore, the Russian side was FORCED to deal with all the stages of the elaboration of the project, without exception, with the utmost seriousness. Including questions of the environment and compliance with international conventions. In particular, the so-called Espoo Convention, more formally known as the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context.I suspect that as of today, the materials on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the Nord Stream gas pipeline project are the only such materials of their kind in terms of quality and scale. Because before, Russia had no need to answer to anybody at such a scale and with such quality. But here – you’ve got to be joking! – we’ve already got the fourth public hearings just in Russia alone.Gennady Grudnitsky told about how the Russian undersea portion of the project includes the construction of two branches with a length of 123 km. (The land portion, it turns out, is called «Gryazovets-Vyborg»). Diameter of the pipes – 1200 mm, thickness of the pipes – 41 mm. Overall mass of the cement cladding – 114 thsd. tons. Mass of all the cargo necessary for construction – 3 mln. tons.Portovaya Bay, the pristine cove where the Nord Stream pipeline will enter the waters of the Baltic Sea (Photo by Grigory Pasko)The speaker most likely never expected that even his “just numbers” would elicit questions from people in the audience. But the fact is that the audience included not only local pensioners, but also journalists and environmentalists. For example, Olga Senova from the environmental organization «Friends of the Baltic», Lyudmila Bogdan from the Russian regional ecological center and others.And this is why there was indeed a question: Where are you going to get the pipes with a thickness of 41 mm for the project, since Russian industry doesn’t produce these? Answer: It will.The main keynote speech was the presentation by Grigory Vilchek. He, in part, told about the impact of the project on the flora and fauna of the region, on fish stocks and fishing in general, on soils and underground waters, on the nesting of birds… And here there followed a question about the understated sum of the damage. Olga Senova said: “My friends, scholars-ornithologists, have reported that damage in a size of 18 mln. rubles will be caused just to ornitho-fauna alone, but you’ve got the overall damage at 71.5 mln.”Vilchek said: “Our estimates are preliminary so far…”Then the speaker talked about how the plant and animal world here is small. But he didn’t say a word about moose for some reason. Even though there’s even a monument to a moose standing in Vyborg. (By the way, not far at all from the building of the administration of the Rayon).A monument to a moose in Vyborg (Photo by Grigory Pasko)Not a word did the head ecologist say about the chemical weapons submerged at the bottom of the Baltic, either. It goes without saying that this did not remain unnoticed by the environmentalists. Vilchek said: “Along the Russian section of the right-of-way traces of chemweaponry have not been uncovered.” That is, this question is going to need to be addressed “further on down the (pipe)line”, that is, to the management of Nord Stream AG.To the question of environmentalist Alexander Sutyagin “Why are not all of the materials of the EIA presented for familiarization?”, Mr. Vilchek answered honestly and incomprehensibly: “Because many materials have the classification of secrecy. We ourselves are suffering from this.” It’s incomprehensible because Article 7 of the «Law on the state secret» prohibits attributing information of an ecological character to secret information. But the management of OOO «PiterGaz», apparently, doesn’t know about this. Or maybe it does, but some kind of secret department within the OOO is hindering the application of the law?Whatever the case may be, the second symbolic feature of the «enigma» that is Russia – secrecy – also manifested itself at the hearings.«PiterGaz» ecologist Grigory Vilchek (Photo by Grigory Pasko)There were other questions as well to which the representatives of Nord Stream and «PiterGaz» were unable to find precise and complete answers: about the mechanism for decommissioning the gas pipeline in 50 years; about the places for stockpiling pipes; about insuring risks; about waste processing; about the real sum of damage…A local resident, pensioner Maximov, had a question about the risks to which the Seleznev district would be subjected. They answered him that this section belongs to the land-based part of the pipeline, and that hearings on this section had already taken place in the year 2006.After two hours, Likhovidov uttered a very Soviet phrase: “Permit me to consider our discussion an approval of the materials presented.” Immediately heard were the words of Olga Senova: “We do not permit you. Because to many questions we did not receive concrete answers and because we gathered here for hearings, not for a procedure of approving or not approving.” Another employee of the local administration rushed to Likhovidov’s aid: “Keep your opinion to yourself. What’s important to us is the reaction of the local population, and you, you’re not a local resident at all.”The population was silent. In all the silence, just the one lone voice of journalist Andrei Kolomoysky from the newspaper «Vyborgskiye novosti» could be heard saying: “We didn’t get answers to many of our questions…”After this, Likhovidov declared the hearings concluded.On the sidelines, Vasilieva and her colleagues nevertheless organized the signing of something akin to a resolution on the hearings: there was a discussion, questions were touched upon, it was decided to finish up the materials with respect to the EIA in consideration of these questions… I refused to sign it: I consider that my business is to write, not to sign. All the more so since many questions really did remain unanswered. For example: If the designers of the project are contriving to classify as secret that which is not subject to being classified as secret by law, then will they then try and take the law into their own hands for the entire process of the construction of the pipeline or will they confine themselves to just the Russian section?…When I was leaving the building, a man was coming towards me carrying a stuffed black grouse. There are practically no black grouses left in this region. If you go ahead and build the pipeline without thinking and without taking account of its impact on the environment, then our children and grandchildren will be able to see grouses only in stuffed form, and moose – as monuments.