"Economic Development and the Environment"
on the Sakhalin Offshore Oil and Gas Fields II

Copyright (C) 1999 by Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University.
All rights reserved

Conflict or Compromise?
Traditional natural resource use and oil exploitation
in northeastern Sakhalin/Noglikskii district

Emma Wilson


Representation, Participation, Control
Appendix 0 of the Sakhalin II Phase 1 Project EIA is a socio-economic assessment. In Section 9.5.3.5 the Nivkhi are reported as "expressing doubts" about competing with Russians for jobs in the oil sector and hoping for a "ripple effect" to provide their children with opportunities in the future. This passive hope characterises not only the Native but also the non-Native attitudes towards the oil developments. For decades people were trained to rely on the State for everything, however, at the same time, inherent in their being is an aversion to "begging" for help. The result is a simmering resentment at being cast aside by the State and a subconscious hope or expectation that somehow the solution will suddenly come from outside: "We need someone to take charge (Nuzhen khoziain)."*12  Often, after a long tirade against the conditions they are living in, people come to a halt blaming it all ultimately on "the System" that can't be changed. But is it not the people that reproduce the System?
Most people are unable to go out and resolve their problems by pushing themselves forward. "Standing out" or "shining (vydeliatsia)" was always frowned upon, and even today those who appear to do so are mistrusted by the community. There is a great deal of envy and mistrust among the local Native populations, which naturally hinders collective action. This is compounded by their natural passivity and tolerance. There is also a deeper sense of despair. If, in order to create social movements, "people need to feel both aggrieved about some aspect of their lives and optimistic that, activing collectively, they can redress the problem" (McAdam et al, 1996) then the lack of optimism here may also provide a key to understanding the lack of collective action. Most people have already given up hope or "let their hands drop (opustili ruki)," often as far as turning to alcohol as an escape route.
An excuse for inactivity is often that people don't know who or what to turn to for help ("Kuda obratitsia?"). Often people need a ready formula, a ready answer, a concrete place or person that they can address their complaints to. The Soviet system provided specific channels for complaint. The mechanisms available today require more initiative on the part of the individual.
The "ripple effect" will not be felt if local communities do not make a concerted effort to enjoy an equitable share of benefits from the oil projects. Disbursal of funds from the bonuses, the Sakhalin Development Fund and other funds will depend on how the district administration and district assembly, under pressure from local citizens, can influence the process of distribution in their favour. Given the lack of sympathy of local politicians and administrators towards Native issues, it is important here that indigenous and non-indigenous groups join forces to put pressure on their leaders. Likewise, strict ("international") ecological standards will not be upheld by the companies unless they are forced to comply through public pressure. Joint positions and demands made on behalf of the whole population (indigenous and non-indigenous residents) regarding economic rights (e.g. distribution of revenues) and ecological rights (e.g. rights to clean rivers, unpolluted fish, recreational space, etc.) are more likely to gain the attention of local administrations and state regulatory organs.
There is a growing tendency today towards using legislation in Russia as a whole. However, using the law to defend one's ecological and human rights is fairly new in Russia, and is less common the further away from the centre one travels.*13  In 1998, on Sakhalin a record number of applications were made to the Public Prosecutor - 11,248 (Sovetskii Sakhalin, 8.06.99). The involvement of environmental and human rights lawyers on Sakhalin in recent years, most notably the Moscow-based legal NGO "Ecojuris" has greatly increased the use of legislation as a basis for understanding rights. However, litigation is still a little used mechanism here in the field of ecological and human rights.
The base of legislation is established in the Constitution of the Russian Federation (12.12.93). Article 42 guarantees the right of any citizen of the Russian Federation to a clean environment and reliable information about the state of the environment. Article 30 states that all citizens have the right to form an organisation to protect their interests, and guarantees freedom of action within this organisation. Article 31 states that all have the right to peaceful protest, including political mass-meetings, demonstrations, marches and pickets. Article 46 guarantees protection of human rights and freedoms through the courts.
According to the federal law "On Environmental Protection" (19.12.91) every development project should receive a positive conclusion from a State Environmental Expert Review (expertiza), which is carried out according to the law "On State Environmental Expert Reviews" (23.11.95). Local populations should have access to adequate information about proposed projects. Environmentalists recommend that this information be provided through the media at least 6 months before the start of the State EER process. Developers should also present the public with the opportunity to become acquainted with all the project materials, generally by putting a copy of the materials in a local library (Sakhalin Environment Watch, 1999).
However, the formal process of information dissemination can miss those people who are to be most affected by the development project itself. While most people even in outlying regions of Russia are surprisingly well-informed about events, there is a great difficulty in transferring knowledge and awareness into meaningful action. This may be partly related to the form in which information is received. It may be received in a form that people are unable to respond to actively (word of mouth, old newspapers, etc.); they may not receive full details or the necessary information guiding them on how they can respond. Not all people read newspapers; some spend most of their time without access to a television or radio and far from a local library; most people don't have access to the Internet. This should be taken into consideration when oil companies develop socio-economic programmes, information dissemination and participation processes.
The problem can be addressed to some extent through more interactive information processes on the part of the developers. For example, an oil company could organise focus group discussions at the local (village) level with specific interest groups (e.g. reindeer herders, fishermen), not just with heads of enterprises and official representatives of indigenous organisations. Ideally oil company representatives should visit reindeer herders and fishermen in their own environment.
Local grassroots initiatives can also assist. Informal information channels work well. Friends and family regularly visit reindeer herders, traditional fishing collectives and families living on the shores of the bays. There are possibilities for developing more organised informal information channels relating to local environmental changes, pollution of food sources, industrial activity that threatens traditional livelihoods, etc. Information can be processed through public groups at the local level and opinions voiced in a more appropriate form and language for decision-making processes (e.g. a village meeting (skhod); collection of signatures; an official letter to the local authorities, oil companies or a Ministry).
Both SEIC and Exxon have completed socio-economic reports relating to their projects. These reports were ordered by the companies from local research institutes and provide a good background to socio-economic issues in the Sakhalin region. Local opinions on the oil and gas projects were elicited through questionnaires. However, this form of research is not active participation of the public in decision-making on issues that directly affect them. Ultimately the information gained may or may not be used by the companies, and the companies are not obliged to respond to the opinions expressed by local respondents.
Public hearings, however, are an essential part of the process of receiving approval for a project, according to the law "On environmental expert reviews." SEIC has held two sets of public hearings as part of the EIA for its project (in spring and autumn of 1997). According to environmentalists, these were poorly attended, were predominantly promotional in character, and allowed only half an hour out of three and a half hours for local people to voice their concerns. Exxon has so far not held any public hearings.
NGOs are also allowed by law to undertake a public environmental expert review. For example, the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk based NGO Sakhalin Environment Watch (SEW) is completing a public environmental expert review of the Sakhalin I project and are preparing to carry one out on the materials for Sakhalin IV. However, this demands financing that local populations often do not have. SEW finances its work through grants from international grant-giving bodies.
Writing grant applications is still alien to most local residents, partly because of the bureaucracy of the grant giving procedures, which most indigenous people have neither the time nor the desire to be involved in, and partly, again, because of the reluctance to "beg" for help. Grant giving bodies in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk are now moving towards supporting "sustainable development" projects, and there are now opportunities for local indigenous entrepreneurs to gain support for sustainable resource use projects. However, this requires support from a "manager" (Native or non-Native) who will be able to deal with the necessary paper-work. Those who have the energy and desire to write grant proposals, run round offices, work with papers and permissions, organise people and money, are often mistrusted by others, accused of trying to "pull the blanket over themselves (tianut' odeialo na sebia)."
SEIC also has a community assistance grant programme through which they support youth initiatives and cultural programmes, for example, an art exhibition, talented musicians, the Nivkh language newspaper. They also pay for Native students from the Poronaisk technical lysee to go to St. Petersburg to study further, and support Native students who have a good knowledge of English.*14  These programmes are much appreciated by local indigenous people. However, the sums of money are small, and the aim of SEIC here is community assistance in the sense of publicity, not local development.
At the local level in Noglikskii district community organisation and co-operation is extremely low. One of the only non-governmental groups active in the district is the Sakhalin Regional Association of Northern Native Minorities (ANNM), whose leader is from Nogliki himself. This group was only recently re-established, is already gaining recognition national and internationally, and is starting to discuss Native issues more seriously with the oil companies. The Noglikskii district branch of the association is now in the process of development, and played an active role in the recent seminar "Indigenous peoples and the environment in the Russian Far East" (Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, 27-28 May 1999). However, given the broad range of interests within the Native community, the ANNM is not able to represent the interests of the whole local population, which causes some resentment, particularly given the influence that the ANNM holds in decision-making processes. For those who do not have access to the ANNM, there are no alternative groups to represent their interests.
If fruitful partnerships are to be developed, then the nature of representation is important. How representative is it? Local interests should not be represented by one or two official representatives who make decisions on the part of the population in closed meetings. If agreements are signed on behalf of the people, they should be available to the public to read. If meetings are held, they should be written about in the press. Participants at the June seminar in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk were distressed that an agreement signed with great ceremony by the Sakhalin Governor and the president of the Sakhalin ANNM, was not made available to them to read even after the signing. Residents of villages in northwestern Sakhalin close to the proposed site of Sakhalin IV, which recently received approval for exploratory drilling, are concerned that consultation about the project was carried out in private meetings, while the results of a public village meeting (expressing categoric opposition) and a collection of over a thousand signatures seem to have been ignored. "Partnerships" and "agreements" should not be allowed to undermine other more democratic forms of public participation.
Sakhalin NGOs are now well-established in international ecological networks, providing local people with an opportunity for exerting influence internationally. Reports of illegal industrial activities, pollution, human rights abuses, can be passed quickly across Sakhalin, Russia and through international NGO networks as far as the US Congress or the banks that are financing projects. In 1997 a letter sent to the EBRD by international NGOs succeeded in halting financing of the Sakhalin II project until it had passed the State EER process according to Russian law. The Internet has revolutionised these international information networks. So far the local people of Noglikskii district are not well established in these information networks, but such partnerships with ecological groups are now beginning to develop, though again such opportunities are only open to a few who have the right contacts and preferably access to the Internet. While decision-makers (with reason) resent the interference of international protest groups in regional economic affairs, the formation of international NGO networks is considered by the NGOs themselves to be a necessary balance to the activities of international investors and developers in the same local regions. Both are the inevitable results of today's processes of globalisation.
However, these kinds of activities are as yet very new for the local people of Noglikskii district. Fear of the unknown adds to the prevalent public apathy. Many simply don't understand or care about complicated decision-making processes. Importantly, these processes are alien to most peoples' cultures, to traditional indigenous decision-making processes, and to those of the Russian and Soviet systems.
Furthermore, the extreme economic hardship that these people are facing makes any thought of participation or activism impossible. People live from day to day. If you are a reindeer herder, you may be preoccupied by poachers who shoot your deer or by not receiving your salary, rather than striving to participate in decision-making on a pipeline that may or may not cross your last summer pastures. If you are in charge of a clan enterprise you tend to be concerned with raising your fish limits and avoiding unrealistic taxes, rather than in monitoring oil projects that could destroy your fish supplies. If you are raising a family, you will be concerned about planting potatoes, collecting wild garlic and fern, catching fish for subsistence, and in general trying to keep a household together without any financial income. Given the choice of going to a village meeting or digging up your potatoes, you will dig up your potatoes, especially if tomorrow's weather might be bad.
On the other hand, local administrators and politicians have a role to play in attracting the populations to decision-making. According to Article 28 of the "Land Code" (Zemel'nyi Kodeks, 1991) construction of industrial objects (such as a pipeline) on lands inhabited by Native minorities has to be discussed in advance with the local residents, and the local administration should hold a referendum before any preliminary decisions on construction are made (previously this was the responsibility of the local district assembly). So far, no referendum has been held regarding the pipelines planned for the Sakhalin I and II projects.
There is still no established mechanism for people to claim compensation for damage to or loss of hunting territories, fishing grounds and reindeer pastures. According to Article 101 of the "Land Code" any land user is bound to carry out any necessary regeneration work on the land when they have finished using it. However, this kind of regeneration work is rarely done, and much of the land around the north-eastern bays is littered with old drilling equipment, pools of oil and rusting pipes. The system of compensation payments for disrupted reindeer pastures has not yet been agreed with the companies working on the Sakhalin I and II projects. Compensation is a word that has already established itself in the lexicon of local residents. Some perhaps do not understand the full implications of the word, some are too easily "compensated." Indigenous land rights issues are sometimes based on the desire of claimants to gain access to compensation for future industrial development on their lands.
However, whatever the compensation issues, the main problem today for the indigenous people of northern Sakhalin is to officially set aside their traditional territories for reindeer herding, hunting and fishing. As the oil industry expanded in the past, territories were not set aside for traditional use. "We missed out by not fixing our lands earlier."*15  In the Soviet era a land survey (zemleustroistvo) was undertaken regularly. The last one was done 10 years ago, and a new survey is urgently needed, particularly after the destruction caused by the fires of 1998. This year funds have been freed to do a survey of reindeer pastures, which will determine the lands are available for use as pastures, although will not allocate the lands to any particular land user or protect them from industrial encroachment.
Another way to fix traditional lands is through creation of territories of traditional natural resource use (TTPs). There are several models for this in other regions of the RFE, including the Bikin River Basin in Primorskii region (Bocharnikov, et al, 1997) and the newly created "ethno-ecological refuge" Tkhsanom, in the Koriak autonomous region (Zhivaia Arktika, No. 1-2, 1999).
The presidential decree (No. 829-1) of 27.11.89 "On immediate measures towards improving the ecological health of the nation" recommends (in 1990) "allocating territories of traditional (priority) national resource use, on those territories not being used for industrial purposes, to Native minorities of the North, Siberia and the Far East." This and a further decree (No. 397) of 22.04.92 "On immediate measures towards protecting the areas where Northern minorities live and conduct their economic activity" were meant to lay the foundations for setting up a legislative base for establishing priority rights to traditional lands and using these lands for traditional natural resource use. However, very little legislation was actually passed on the basis of these decrees in the Russian Federation as a whole and on Sakhalin in particular.
The Sakhalin Regional Statutes allocate responsibility for setting aside TTPs to the regional government, state organs and local adminstrations. However, there is no corresponding article in the Noglikskii District Statutes. In 1996 the "Temporary regulations on territories of traditional natural resource use of the northern Native minorities of Sakhalin region" were passed. But this does not provide an adequate legislative basis for creating TTPs. In the legislative confusion of the early 1990s the whole of Noglikskii district was declared a territory of traditional natural resource use. This declaration was cancelled, together the "Regulations for territories of traditional natural resource use in Noglikskii district," at a meeting of the district assembly in June 1999, "due to the absence of a legislative base for their implementation by the local administrative organs in Noglikskii district."
Indigenous resource users on Sakhalin are now working towards establishing a legislative foundation for creating territories of traditional natural resource use, which are now acknowledged by the new law "On the guarantees of indigenous minority rights in the Russian Federation" (03.04.99) as "lands of traditional natural resource use" (zemli traditsionnogo prirodopol'zovaniia) or ZTPs. The Sakhalin Association of Northern Native Minorities (ANNM) is taking an active role in promoting and seeking to resolve this issue, and it was raised at the recent seminar in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.
Creation of specially protected areas (SPAs), while not allocating land directly to indigenous users, provides protection from industrial activity. There are two wildlife preserves and four natural monuments in Noglikskii district, which add up to a total of 168,187 ha or 14% of the territory of the district.*16  "Olenii" (deer) wildlife preserve (80,000 ha), in the north-east of the district stretching along coastline, was created in 1989 and protects spring and summer reindeer pastures.*17  As other wildlife preserves, "Olenii" was established for a limited period of ten years. Currently the hunting administration and the Committee of Ecology are working to extend this time limit. "Noglikskii" wildlife preserve (65,800 ha), situated to the west of the district, was established in 1998 to preserve reindeer pastures, wild reindeer, and other species.*18  The Dagi-Komsomol'sk pipeline and a parallel road cross through the northern part of the preserve. Domestic reindeer pass along this road from winter to summer pastures. This pipeline route is unlikely to be used by the Sakhalin I and II projects. Lunskii Bay, further south on the eastern coast, is a natural monument (22,110 ha). Native fishermen are allowed to fish here and family fishing enterprises (rodovye khoziaistva) are based here. Sakhalin Energy had to reassess their plans to lay a pipeline in this area due to protests from biologists and the legal protection offered by the SPA status.
In general Native representatives do not take an active role in the creation of SPAs, even though they are apparently created with their interests as a foremost priority. This causes confusion about regulation, access and status of the territories.
The land issue is likely to remain the most complex and difficult to resolve for a long time to come. There is still no federal legislation on land ownership, and the federal law "On the Lands of Traditional Natural Resource Use of the Indigenous People of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation" is still waiting to be passed by the federal parliament (duma). Until the legislative base is complete, indigenous minorities of northern Sakhalin will have to make do with the mechanisms available to them to defend their rights to a clean environment and access to natural resources, their rights to control and monitor the off-shore oil developments, and their rights to an equitable share of profits from those that go ahead.
* * *
People assure me that everywhere throughout the world large scale oil and gas projects are carried out providing huge profits to investors, creating huge amounts of environmental disturbance and pollution, and providing very little benefits to local populations. So why talk about sustainable development at all? Has the time finally come to put the rhetoric into practice, or should we just "let our hands drop" and allow development to go ahead as usual?
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