Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Window on Eurasia: BP-Type Spill in Caspian Would Be ‘a Catastrophe,’ Former Russian Energy Minister Says

Paul Goble

Carlisle, June 22 – As horrific as the consequences of the BP spill have been in the Gulf of Mexico, a former Russian fuel and energy minister says, the impact of a similar accident in oil and gas platforms in the Caspian could be even worse. a danger that all those pushing for petroleum development there should take into consideration.
Yesterday, Yury Shafranik, who served as Russia’s energy and fuel minister from1993 to 1996 and how heads the Soyuzneftegaz corporation, said at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg that the BP spill would not stop oil development as some have suggested but it should focus more attention on the risks (www.svobodanews.ru/content/article/2077063.html).
The former Russian energy minister said that while the BP situation was “dramatic, dangerous, and unpleasant,” it was not “tragic.” And he suggested that it is important to not to judge the entire industry on the basis of “one accident,” especially since the technology involved is “extraordinarily” reliable and safe.
He suggested that “as in any accident,” there had almost certainly been a “coincidence” of events in the case of the massive BP spill in the Gulf and that it should be possible to prevent a recurrence of similar problems there in the future. Indeed, he said, existing “technological norms” should make that likely.
But he then added the following comment: “Another danger much more seriously disturbs me. Can you imagine for a minute if even a tenth of such a problem occurred in the Caspian? The Caspian is a unique sea. The only one o fits kind in the world. And there are the largest reserves of sturgeons, 80 percent in the world.”
“And in contrast to the Mexican Gulf, it is closed.” Consequently, he said, that is an issue that “Russia and the world must think about after the Mexican Gulf spill.” But up to now, “everyone is keeping silent. That means that someone’s interests are dominating, the interests of a number of companies and the interests of [z number of countries].”
“We professionals” in the oil and gas sector, Shafranik continued, “have always considered that one should not build pipelines across the Caspian! And if you are going to develop and exploit wells there, then this must be done only under the tightest international control.”
Shafranik’s words do not reflect the position of the Russian government or indeed of the Russian majors at least so far, but they are worth noting for at least three reasons. First, the extensive coverage the BP tragedy has received has intensified environmental concerns in the Russian Federation.
Second, the BP tragedy has put that company and its backers on the defensive, all the more so in the case of the Caspian because BP is the leading firm in the development of part of the oil and gas in that seabed, a fact of life that may raise environmental concerns in other countries of the region as well.
And third, the Russian powers that be, who have opposed many trans-Caspian pipeline projects because these plans are viewed as part of an effort to “bypass” Russia now has a ready-made issue it can employ if it wants to in order to draw on the sympathies of people inside Russia and abroad.
As Shafranik implied, economic and national interests are likely to trump environmental concerns – and even worries about the survival of the fish that is responsible for the best caviar in the world – but his words are a clear indication that the BP spill is casting a shadow far larger and more geopolitical than many have assumed so far.

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