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Oil and Gas Impacts on Amur-Heilong

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Although awareness of impacts of oil production on ecosystems is high in northeast China, few quantitative data are available. Production is in decline in the old fields of Daqing and new areas are being explored in Jilin, Inner Mongolia, and Eastern Mongolia. Some exploration sites are in wetlands and nature reserves where development and operation of oil fields would cause disturbance to wildlife and water pollution (ICF-GEF Siberian Crane Wetland Project; .

More and more oil will be imported from Russia. To date oil has been delivered by rail. A recent environmental threat in the basin is oil pipeline construction. Construction and operation of the pipelines will have an impact on forests, freshwater resources, fish, and the wildlife of Eastern Siberia and the southern part of the Russian Far East, affecting two globally important watersheds: Lake Baikal and the Amur-Heilong River basin. (SEE map Pipelines in Amur River basin)

The scale of the proposed projects matches that of the longest pipelines in the world. Just one of them, the ESPO (East Siberia-Pacific Ocean) pipeline under construction by Transneft, has one route leading from Angarsk (Russia) to Daqing (China) and a second route from Angarsk to Pacific.

The Siberia-Pacific pipeline would cross more permafrost areas than any other pipeline project in the Russian Far East. The Russian oil industry has a distinctively bad environmental record in extracting and transporting oil in permafrost regions. Spill-prevention technology dating from the 1940s and 1950s has been poorly maintained, wells and valves have failed, and many lines lack remotely operated controls. The worst pollution from spills, leakages, and erosion occurs in northeastern European Russia and in northwestern Siberia in the Tyumen Region. In Tyumen, a single 1993 spill at a pumping station released at least 420,000 tons of oil near the Sosvinsky Nature Reserve. In contrast, the grounding of the Exxon Valdez resulted in an approximately 37,000 ton spill into Prince William Sound in Alaska .

Another very important issue is pipeline river crossings that usually require trenching. Little information is available from the EIAs of the Russia-China or the Siberia-Pacific pipeline about the standards that are being used to trench the pipe for these projects. Given ice-scour and stream meander risks in most Siberian and Russian Far East river systems, it is important that any pipeline be deeply buried and securely anchored.

The ESPO project present tremendous challenges from an environmental perspective. The pipeline will threaten Siberian rivers that support fish populations that include taimen, lenok, grayling, and pike. Amur-Heilong basin rivers support salmonid populations and pike, and there is an enormous offshore fishery in the Sea of Japan where the pipeline will terminate. The proposed route crosses the main stem of the river and its major tributaries, including all the tributaries of the Ussuri River. In crossing Khabarovsky Krai, the pipeline turns south and traverses almost the entire 1,000 km length of the Sikhote-Alin mountain range that lies between the Sea of Japan and the Amur-Heilong and Ussuri Rivers. This final leg, from Khabarovsk to the Pacific, is the greatest threat to salmon populations. These fisheries hold immense economic, cultural, and ecological value not only to the Russian Far East, but to the larger Pacific Rim and its ecosystems.

Many aspects of pipeline design and route have changed since its inception, thus shifting the urgency and magnitude of potential impacts Russian environmental NGOs insisted in 2006 that the pipeline be removed from the Lake Baikal World Heritage Site and that the terminal be relocated from Perevoznaya Bay in southern Primorsky Province to a point further east.

The project is managed by Transneft and is split into three sections. The first section of the ESPO, from Taishet to Skovorodino, threatens the Lena River with its inappropriate river-crossing technology. The section from Skovorodino to the Pacific will require additional funding from private sources and/or Pacific Rim countries. This section might be cancelled due to lack of funds, uncertainty on oil supplies and changes in international policy. Some components of this section, such as the crossing of the Amur-Heilong River near Khabarovsk, would pose severe environmental risks.

In late 2006 a decision was made to terminate stage one of the Siberia-Pacific oil pipeline at Skovorovino and cross the Amur-Heilong River at the village of Dzhalinda. With Chinese financial support, the Skovorodino-Daqing pipeline is likely to be completed ahead of schedule. This decision substantially increases the risk of oil spills. Details on the right-of-way through the rugged terrain of the Greater Hinggan mountain range remain unknown, although the pipeline is likely to cross, at a minimum, the Huma and Nen Rivers and many smaller streams on its way to the Qiqihar-Daqing-Harbin industrial belt. An even more dangerous scenario has been put forward to construct several cross-river pipelines at different sections. For example, a potentially problematic option was put forward by a private Chinese company. Oil would be shipped by rail to Blagoveshensk on the north bank of the river, then sent by pipe across the Amur-Heilong River and then reloaded into rail cars on the south bank in Heihe. Heihe Prefecture has also advertised an investment opportunity to develop two new petrochemical facilities at Heihe and Sunke. These would process imported oil at the border to add value for subsequent shipments. This would inevitably lead to higher oil pollution loads and rising risks of accident.

Despite a record amount of public debate and litigation, operators of the Siberia-Pacific pipeline project still fail to comply with minimal standards of transparency, public participation and community outreach. As oil and gas prices dramatically rise, the number of proposed pipelines quickly increases. Many of them are planned for the Amur-Heilong River Basin


Map collection: Oil & gas


Map collections: Land use and agriculture





Land degradation

Oil & gas and mining

Transportation infrastructure


GIS: Political geography, railroads and pipelines


Pipeline crossing of Amur river with 50-kilometerwide floodplain poses tremendous risks. Amur. (Photo by P.Sharov)

Also look:

Land-use trends:

General trends in land-use

Recent changes in land-use in three countries



Amur Agriculture

Agricultural development in Northeast China

Agricultural development in Eastern Mongolia

Russian agriculture

Russian agricultural land and production in RFE-tables

Northeast Asia cooperation in agriculture

Environmental impacts of argiculture

Land degradation and desertification

Conversion of wildlands to farmland



Timber harvest in the Russian Far East

Salmon vs forestry

Major human-induced impacts on forest ecosystems of RFE (table)

Timber trade


Other land-use issues:


Nature tourism in the Amur/Heilong River Basin

Transport infrastructure impacts

Oil & gas Basin

Russian mining

Mongolian mining

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