In The Field

Arctic Frontiers: The Russian view

Sergei Donskoi, Russian Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology, gave an illuminating accout of Russia’s plans in terms of developing its huge Arctic mineral resources.

He said 25 new oil and gas fields have in recent years been discovered in the western part of the Russian Arctic sea shelf alone. The Russian government will outline in a so-called federal targeted programme, to be finalised by the end of the year, plans for environmentally sustainable exploitation of these deposits.

Under the new Russian licensing procedures, set up last year, oil and gas companies must have at least five years experience in the exploitation business. More restrictively, only companies 50 % of whose shares are controlled by the Russian Federation can participate in oil and gas exploitation activties. Foreign companies are only allowed to participate as sub-contractors to Russian enterprises anyway.

The federal targeted programm will describe the requirements by 2020 in terms of geological survey, technology procurement, construction, and environmental safety. In the latter respect it will address risks on ground water, soil and plant degradation, and, more generally, climate issues arising from enhanced Arctic exploitation activities. Among other things, Russia will set up new datbases of environmental hot spots in its Arctic territory, create extended new protected areas, and set up an automated monitoring system, we were told. Donskoi says a National Concil for Sustainable Mangement of the Arctic has also been proposed.

But representatives of environmental groups in the audience were not convinced that Russia has really prescribed itself a new environmental consciousness. Greenpeace and the Worldwide Fund for Nature fear that the meger last year of the Russian Ministry of Natural Resorces and the Ministry of the Environment could actually dismantle environmental impact assessment across the Russian Arctic.

Nope, counters Donskoii.The merger (“dictated by structural changes of priorities set at national level”) will reduce bureaucracy and make environmental management of the Arctic more feasible and efficient. The new Ministry of National Resources and Ecology covers environmental functions which were previously spread across eight different government agencies. Russia’s new environmental “doctrine” will now facilitate non-conflicting decisions, he says.

The Arctic hosts more than 20 % of all undiscovered hydrocarbon resources, according to frequently cited data by the US Geological Survey. This is only a rough estimate, however. In future, Russia should get increasingly involved in Arctic mineral resources asessment activities, said James A. Slutz, assistant secretary in the US Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy, on his last day in office (and in what otherwise was a pretty vague and disappointing presentation.)

Participants here warmly welcomed US plans to join the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, part of the US’s new Arctic strategy that was announced earlier this month by the leaving Bush administration. The view that the US does not need a ‘Treaty on Ice’ , as John Bellinger, legal adviser to forme US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, once put it, seems to be finally overcome.

Quirin Schiermeier


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