Act now to save the Ukok Plateau

Credit: Gazprom.ru

Last week The Moscow Times quoted a federal official saying that Russia and China would likely ink a deal on the Altai Gas Pipeline in June at the upcoming St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

The 2600-km pipeline would stretch through sensitive landscapes and communities in Altai Republic and then cross the Ukok Plateau into China across the 54-km wide stretch of Russia-China border in central Siberia.

At the meeting place of Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan, the Ukok Plateau is part of the “Golden Mountains of Siberia” UNESCO World Heritage Site, and as such, is vital cultural and environmental heritage not just for Altaians but for the world community.

Putin first announced this project in 2006, and ever since then locals in Altai Republic and neighboring Altai Krai have been deeply concerned. The threats posed by such a pipeline include:

  • Destruction of sacred lands/natural monuments on sacred Ukok Plateau and along the pipeline route (the Telengit, a small-numbered indigenous people, claim the entire Plateau as a cultural site)
  • Passage through and damage to UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Environmental damage to landscape (permafrost tundra on Ukok), damage to wildlife diversity, changes to migratory routes and habitats
  • Increased access for poachers using service roads
  • Threats to Katun River watershed and multiple Altai Republic protected area violations
  • Destruction of high-altitude tundra wetlands and permafrost (increased greenhouse gas emissions)
  • Destruction or damage to cultural and historical landmarks (Kalbak Tash petroglyphs in Chui-Oozy, Ukok Plateau, etc.)
  • Changes or restrictions in access to traditional natural resource use by indigenous peoples

Once the price negotiations are complete and the deal is signed, local activists expect the pipeline’s construction to begin almost immediately.

While one would expect Russia and Gazprom to conduct through environmental impact studies and thoroughly consider alternative routes, experience with other pipeline projects in Russia shows that there is often a great rush to get construction underway, often resulting in slipshod studies and construction practices.

The Altai Project’s local partners are reaching out to local communities across Altai Republic, focusing particularly on indigenous communities whose lives and cultural heritage are in the pipeline’s path. By working in partnership in Altai Republic, across Russia, and around the world, we want to persuade Gazprom and the Russian government to consider alternate pipeline routes in place of the Ukok Plateau.

What can you do?

1. Donate generously to support a public environmental impact assessment, public education and outreach in Altai and abroad, and efforts to protect sacred sites, cultural monuments, and sensitive nature in the pipeline’s path.
2. Tell your friends about the beauty of Altai and The Altai Project’s efforts to protect it. Connect on Facebook with The Altai Project to follow our work.
3. Stand ready to participate in upcoming action alerts and activities during the course of the pipeline campaign.
4. Volunteer your time and energy!

You can learn more about Altai and the pipeline at the links below, and in the coming weeks and months, I’ll share more information here.

Take a virtual trip to Altai’s Ukok Plateau through Igor Heitman’s photography

Fund for 21st Century Altai’s Ukok page

Gazprom’s Altai Gas Pipeline page

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