September 14, 2004

Article by Sakhalin Independent
SEIC criticised for oil spill near Kholmsk

Since September 8, dozens of Kholmsk residents have turned to hospital reporting headaches and respiratory problems. On September 10, over 200 Sakhalin students rallied in front of the Sakhincentr building and Sakhalin Energy (SEIC) office in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk wearing T-shirts inscribed 'We live here!' and waving slogans 'Sakhalin oil and gas fields to Sakhalin residents'. Sakhalin environmental organisations renewed their criticism of Sakhalin oil and gas projects. These are some of the consequences of the oil spill off Kholmsk coast, south Sakhalin, on September 8.

SEIC claims it is doing its best to liquidate the oil spill with over 100 specialists and volunteers involved in the cleanup operations days and nights.

The dredger 'Cristoforo Colombo', owned by European Dredging Company (EDC), which is on contract to Saipem, contractor for the Sakhalin-2 Phase 2, ran aground during the heavy typhoon winds in the late hours of September 8 in between Kholmsk Fishing Port and Kholmsk Commercial Marine Port. Three tanks of the vessel were damaged during the accident, spilling some 189 tonnes of heavy oil and fuel in the coastal waters of Kholmsk. Some of the spilled fuel has reached the public beach area in the city.

Environmentalists claim that on September 8 the captain disobeyed an order from port authorities in Kholmsk, where the ship was docked, to sail into open waters to avoid being tossed against the rocks during the typhoon.

After another accident on September 12, when the captain of the Cristoforo Columbo jettisoned waters contaminated with heavy oil and fuel from the ship to the coastal waters, employees of the emergencies department have been staying on board the ship controlling activities of the crew.

"We're seeing how dangerous this project is at its very earliest stages," Dmitry Lisitsyn, head of Sakhalin Environment Watch (SEW), said. "This is the sort of thing we expected to happen, but not so early on."

SEIC claimed two kilometres of coastline were contaminated. However, Lisitsyn, who visited the sight, said at least five kilometres of Sakhalin's coastline were black with oil and criticised the company for not doing enough to clean it up. The environmentalist believes that SEIC's chief contractor for oil spill emergency response, Ecoshelf, has not responded in time. All Ecoshelf's equipment, transport, ships and specialists were located at the opposite end of the island, in the Nogliki district. Ecoshelf head, William Stillings, reported at a press conference on September 10 that the company indeed needed time to mobilise its resources and started working at the site at 16.00hrs next day, 18 hours after the accident.

According to the regional emergencies department by September 13, some 100 metres of booms have been deployed, over 100 square metres of onshore area have been cleaned and 72 cubic metres of oiled soil have been taken away from the area.

Sakhalin Governor Ivan Malakhov, who visited Kholmsk on September 10, was unsatisfied with work pace and said that the regional administration will make Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 operators and other companies intending to develop Sakhalin offshore oil and gas fields create a unified oil spill response system. "In three years, big amounts of oil will be transported from Sakhalin and we must be ready to liquidate oil spills efficiently," the governor stressed.

SEIC intends to complete cleanup works by the middle of September, but Russian specialists believe that this will take at least two weeks. "We realise that for Kholmsk people the situation is shocking. We will discuss with Mayor what we can do for people to forget the unpleasant event," SEIC Assets General Manager Leo Livaart said.