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17 Sep, 2010 05:19

Sakhalin Island: untouched nature hiding immense resources

Russia’s Sakhalin Region in the country's Far East is famous for its serenity, beauty and unique wildlife, but the island also boasts large energy resources.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union this land was not explored for gas and oil despite huge potential, but now the exploration is getting increasingly active.

A major part of the Sakhalin energy business is the Sakhalin Energy company.

The Sakhalin Energy project is the first of its kind in Russia, with only twenty similar projects in the entire world. Millions of cubic tons of gas are processed here every year to be exported to Asian-Pacific countries, successfully combining Russian natural resources and Western technologies.

The project includes a gas-liquefying plant in Prigorodnoye, which has Gazprom, Shell and two Japanese companies as shareholders. According to the company’s management, their presence here dramatically improved Sakhalin’s life in the eighteen months of the plant’s operation.

However, not everyone shares such an entirely positive view. The project poses a serious threat to the lifestyle of the indigenous people of Sakhalin’s North – the Nivkhi minority. Around 4,000 Nivkhs live at the seaside here, relying for survival on the riches of the underwater world.

“When the platforms appeared, the fish we used to catch in these areas practically disappeared,” says Vladimir Talin, a Nivkh fisherman. “We expressed our protest and got good results. There was an offshore platform just over there, but after our voices of discontent it was moved further away.”

Now the Sakhalin Energy company has launched several social programs to support indigenous minorities, which include employment of the Nivkhs at their facilities.

According to both the company’s management and the Nivkhs, the gas giant’s programs for the natives are a healthy compromise and an example of how the old and the new can co-exist. In practical terms, this means multibillion profits for the former, and much better quality of life for the latter.