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Former Russian Energy Minister Worried By Caspian Oil Spill Threat

Yuri Shafranik
Yuri Shafranik
ST. PETERSBURG -- Former Russian Energy Minister Yuri Shafranik says he is concerned about the threat of a major oil spill in the Caspian Sea, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Shafranik told RFE/RL on the sidelines of the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg on June 19 that any laying of pipelines or oil drilling in the Caspian must be strictly regulated and supervised.

He said an oil leak even one-tenth the size of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico would be catastrophic for the Caspian Sea.

"The Caspian is unlike any other sea in the world," Shafranik said. "Unlike the Gulf of Mexico, the Caspian is a closed sea. It holds 80 percent of the world's sturgeon stock. Experts have said continuously that pipes must not be laid beneath the Caspian. And if wells are drilled it must be only under strict international supervision."

Plans for a Trans-Caspian oil pipeline have been in the works for several years but have yet to be finalized by a consensus of the five states that border the Caspian. The proposed pipeline would bring a projected 23 million tons of oil a year from fields in Kazakhstan across the sea to the already operational Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline.

The BTC pipeline would transport the oil to the Mediterranean region via Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey.

Shafranik is the chairman of Russia's Soyuzneftegaz and head of the Union of Oil and Gas Producers of Russia. He was Russia's energy minister from 1993-1996.

He told RFE/RL that safety regulations in the Russian oil sector -- many of which still date from the Soviet era -- lag far behind Western standards.