Dachas and LNG Don’t Mix

Posted by David Gordon

Russians love their dachas.  Dachas are summer garden houses, and many people – especially retired pensioners – will spend all summer on these small plots of land growing vegetables and flowers.  We visited a dacha collective on the edge of Prigorodnoye in southern Sakhalin.  The love and effort that these “dachniki” (dacha folk) have put into their land was obvious.  They showed us their flowers, berries, potatoes, and even grapes – yes, grapes! – that they have grown on their dachas over the last 30 years.  They fed us plums and apples from their trees and gave us homemade wine.

But these dacha owners are fighting with Shell.  Their dachas are just 1200 meters from Shell’s enormous LNG plant in southern Sakhalin, part of the Sakhalin-II project.  Originally, the LNG plant was supposed to have a 3.5-kilometer buffer zone.  At least that’s what the environmental impact review said, which was approved by the Russian government.  After all, if an accident were to occur at the LNG plant, the blast zone itself could cover 3 kilometers, including everything in this dacha community.  But if the buffer zone was 3.5 kilometers, Shell would have had to pay to resettle these dacha owners.  Shell’s solution?  Let’s make the buffer zone just 1 kilometer, and then Shell doesn’t have to resettle anyone.

Shell is in the process of commissioning its LNG plant, and as a result, has been flaring gas since early July.  You can see the flare 24 hours a day, even from the dachas.  They say they no longer need to turn on lights on their upper floors because of the flare.  Worst of all, you can smell the flare from the dachas.  They said that yesterday, the area was covered with black smoke from the flare.  Some days, if they are downwind, they say the smell is unbearable.  We’re helping them to start monitoring their air quality and send air samples to laboratories for analysis.  Meanwhile, some of the dacha owners can’t even spend the night at their dachas anymore due to the air pollution and the noise from the LNG plant.  Dozens of dacha owners have already abandoned the area, fed up with Shell and construction of the LNG plant, although dozens more are hanging on because of their love of the land.

The dacha owners are still demanding that Shell commit to a resettlement plan that would comply with international standards.  But Shell is refusing to take responsibility for its actions.  There is a certain beauty in Russian dachas, and Shell doesn’t seem to realize how much the ‘dachniki’ love their land.  The ‘dachniki’ have invested so much of their sweat and time into tending the land, growing fruits and vegetables.  I felt like I am seeing a part of Russia die as these dacha owners are being forced out by Shell.

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