|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.
Posts Tagged ‘Sakhalin’
|Posted by David Gordon|
Continuing our trip here on Sakhalin, we traveled north over the last few days to visit indigenous reindeer herders and indigenous fish camps. The Uilta people in Sakhalin traditionally herd reindeer, while the Nivkh people are fishers. Both peoples are being impacted by enormous oil and gas projects in Northeastern Sakhalin led by Shell and Exxon.
We used a Gaz-66 – an enormous Russian truck that can pretty much deal with any road conditions – to drive out to the reindeer herders. After getting near to the area we hiked for about half a mile through lichen, dwarf birch, and dwarf pine to find the camp. We saw berries and mushrooms as we walked – this “forest-tundra” area was very rich. The herders we met had about 60 reindeer. Only about 17 Uilta continue to herd reindeer. Indigenous peoples such as the Uilta in Russia have had to adapt to constant changes – from forced collectivization and forced resettlement into large towns under the Soviets, to adapting to the market economy and a collapse of government subsidies in the 1990s, to massive oil and gas developments on their traditional territories over the last several years. Traditions have been lost, although a number of indigenous peoples in Russia – including the herders who we met – are trying to restore the traditions.
The herders said that ever since Exxon built an enormous oil processing complex, the reindeer have been forced out of their traditional calving area. The noise, lights, and constant traffic from this processing facility are too much for the reindeer. The herders are worried about survival rates among the reindeer calves as they do what they can to increase the reindeer population.
The Nivkh fishers are also worried about the impacts of Shell and Exxon’s projects on their traditional fishing lifestyles. They spend the summers in fish camps spread out along the bays of Northeastern Sakhalin and come there year-round to fish saffron cod, char, and salmon. We arrived in time to see some of our indigenous partners fishing for salmon and then shared a wonderful traditional meal. But the Nivkh grandmothers we talked with are worried – they say that more and more often, they come across fish that have sores and blisters or that smell like oil. They don’t know why this is, and the oil companies have refused to study the problem.
Their frustrations with the oil and gas developments led the Nivkh, Uilta, and other indigenous peoples to blockade roads to Shell and Exxon’s projects in 2005. As a result, Shell agreed to an indigenous peoples’ development plan that provides a council with $300,000 per year over 5 years. But what happens after these five years are up? In our conversations, we learned that many indigenous peoples are concerned that the money from this plan won’t really be used to help with restoring and protecting their traditional culture. Instead, they know that they’re the ones who will stay in northeastern Sakhalin. The oil companies will leave Sakhalin, and the native peoples will be left with the mess.
Vasily, a reindeer herder, told us that all he really wants is “calm.” He wants a calm place to herd reindeer and restore his people’s traditions.