January 25, 2006

Ecologists say experts reject Siberian oil route

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A state-convened group of experts has
rejected the proposed route for a key Russian oil pipeline to
Asia because it would threaten Siberia's pristine Lake Baikal,
ecological groups said late on Tuesday.

WWF and Greenpeace said 40 of the 52 experts whose opinion
was canvassed by the government's technical supervisory
committee (Rostekhnadzor) said the pipeline went too close to
Baikal, and must be moved outside its catchment zone.

The decision could prove a blow for oil pipeline monopoly
Transneft which has been pushing the line as a way to expand
exports to the Far East. Analysts said, however, it would not
stop the pipe going ahead in some form.

"Until today it seemed that the oilmen and the traders in
natural resources of our country had occupied all the
authorities in Russia," Greenpeace said in a statement.

"It appears that is not the case, therefore there is hope
that the situation in the country could improve."

Rostekhnadzor was not available for comment, but the ruling
is the latest setback for the $15-20 billion project due to
link China and the Pacific Coast with Siberia's oil-producing

The resources ministry in September said the link still ran
too close to Baikal, which is by far the world's deepest lake,
has dozens of unique species and is almost entirely unpolluted.

The pipeline is due to deliver 80 million tonnes of oil a
year (1.6 million barrels per day) to Asian markets and would
be key to Russian plans to circumvent bottlenecks in selling
its key export.

President Vladimir Putin, who is very sensitive to
criticism, in July accused environmentalists of trying to stop
the pipeline because they are in the pay of Western

"We believe that even if the report causes a delay, it
would only be temporary as a political decision to proceed with
the Far East pipeline has already been made," Aton brokerage
said in written report.