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Far East Seas, Whales and Oil Drilling

50 Environmental Organizations Demand that Shell and Exxon-Mobil End the Global Double Standard on Russia's Sakhalin Island

January 08, 2003, press-release
Pacific Environment
Sakhalin Environment Watch
For More Information, contact:
David Gordon, +1-510-541-5334,
Catriona Glazebrook, +1-510-251-8800,
Dmitry Lisitsyn, +7 (4242) 74-75-18,

Environmentalists are demanding that Shell and Exxon-Mobil meet world-class oil and gas environmental standards offshore of Sakhalin Island in Russia's Far East, just north of Japan.

50 Environmental organizations from Russia, the U.S., Japan, and Europe have sent the written demands to the two oil giants., arguing that until they fully comply with these minimal criteria, the Sakhalin projects should not be allowed to move forward. The demands were also sent to government agencies, international financial institutions, and shareholders who have provided the financing that make the projects possible.

The demands are designed to ensure that Shell's and ExxonMobil's actions on Sakhalin will not harm the fragile ecosystems and the rich fisheries off the shore of Sakhalin. The demands also ask the companies to protect rare and endangered species including the Western Pacific Gray Whale - of which less than 100 remain - who depend on the area being developed for oil and gas for its primary feeding area 6 months of the year.

"The fish that sustain us and our local economy depends on a clean environment," said Dmitry Lisitsyn, chair of Sakhalin Environment Watch, a local environmental organization that advocates for responsible development. "We live off of salmon and crab. Less than 100 Western Pacific Gray Whales remain. We don't want to sacrifice these to oil pollution caused by Shell and ExxonMobil."

The demands follow a September 2002 investigative article in the Wall Street Journal that demonstrated that neither Shell nor ExxonMobil are meeting standards or regulations that they would be required to meet in similarly fragile environments in Alaska or other parts of the United States. The article was a runner-up for the prestigious John B. Oakes Award for distinguished environmental journalism. The New York Times, in an editorial, also questioned whether the oil industry was looking at Russia as a "cheap date."

"Environmental organizations are united in demanding that Shell and ExxonMobil can't treat Russia's environment differently than they would treat the environment in the United States," said Catriona Glazebrook, Executive Director of Pacific Environment, which protects the living environment around the Pacific Rim.

Environmental organizations are demanding that Shell and Exxon protect endangered gray whales by modifying construction and drilling plans, protect salmon by adopting better pipeline construction standards, ensure better oil spill prevention and response measures, protect fisheries by moving to a "zero discharge" standard, stop plans for winter transport of oil through treacherous sea ice, improve public participation and access to information processes, and increase the socio-economic benefits to the people of Sakhalin.

"If Shell and ExxonMobil do not comply with these common-sense demands, they will expose their own hypocrisy," said David Gordon, Associate Director of Pacific Environment who has worked in partnership with Sakhalin environmentalists to monitor oil and gas development. "Shell and ExxonMobil are treating Russia like a third-world resource colony. If they don't comply with these demands, then these projects should not be financed by international taxpayers or allowed to move forward by the Russian government. The projects are simply too environmentally risky for investors and for the people of Russia,

Public financial institutions including the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation are financing the Sakhalin projects with taxpayer money.

The environmental problems of the Sakhalin oil and gas projects are attracting high-level attention and concern within the Russian government. In a meeting with scientists last August, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, "We have many questions and problems on the Sakhalin shelf in association with the development of the shelf." Later in the same meeting, Putin complained that foreign companies were not even meeting standards required of Russian companies and said, "We also need to place these conditions on our partners who work on our [Sakhalin] Shelf. Absolutely."

Fifty environmental organizations have endorsed the demands, including Sakhalin Environment Watch, Pacific Environment, World Wildlife Fund, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Greenpeace, Environmental Defense, Earth Island Institute, the Socio-Ecological Union, the Center for Russian Environmental Policy, Friends of the Earth-Japan, Wild Salmon Center, Cook Inlet Keepers, Alaska Forum for Environmental Responsibility, and the Russian "Living Seas" Coalition.

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