Putin orders pipeline away from lake Baikal as construction starts

Russian president Vladimir Putin said the East Siberia-Pacific oil pipeline should avoid lake Baikal, after continued protests about the risks of oil spills into the world's deepest and cleanest lake.

The pipeline route, originally planned to pass less than a kilometre away from the lake through an area prone to strong earthquakes, should be shifted 40km north, Mr Putin said on Wednesday.

Last week, campaigners highlighted the economic risks associated with the pipeline, including the future need to compensate locals if oil spills occur (see related story).

But although the president seemed to be siding with environmentalists and scientists calling for the pipeline to be diverted away from Baikal, concerns remain.

Diverting the route 40km north would still have it passing through lake Baikal’s watershed and cutting across hundreds of rivers and streams that feed it, campaigners said.

Construction of the pipeline officially started on Friday, with the first few metres laid at a ceremony in the Siberian city of Taishet.

Vladimir Putin had so far strongly supported the pipeline. He surprised pro- and anti-pipeline campaigners alike when he told Semyon Vainshtok, head of the pipeline construction company Transneft, that the route should be shifted “further north” at a conference on Siberian development in the city of Tomsk.

Goska Romanowicz

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