In 2013, activists claimed victory in Altai regarding the Altai pipeline. First, RIA-Novosti published a letter submitted by Gazprom to the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources. In it, Gazprom announces that it “has not made a final decision to build the Altai Gas Pipeline across the Ukok Plateau, that it is not currently working on the project, and that there will be no funding allocated to the project in 2014 and 2015.”
A number of conservation groups spoke out in support of Gazprom’s move to delay the project, including WWF-Russia, Russia’s Green Party People’s Alliance, Greenpeace, the Save Ukok Coalition, and others. While of course the change of plans is a victory for the Ukok Plateau and Altaians in the next few years, strong concerns remain about this “Altai option” for building any infrastructure across the plateau into China.
Overturning protection for sacred sites
On the same day that the pipeline was tabled, Altai Republic’s Prosecutor’s Office overturned a June 2012 decree for the preservation and development of Altai Republic’s sacred sites. Widely praised in 2012, it was a step toward protecting Altai’s cultural and spiritual traditions as well as the physical landscape itself, banning most resource extraction, economic development, and other potentially harmful activities. In overturning the decree, the Prosecutor’s Office cited a number of conflicts with federal law “On cultural heritage sites (historical and cultural monuments) of the peoples of the Russian Federation.” The decree was seen as a potential block against infrastructure development on the sacred Ukok Plateau, home to hundreds of cultural and historical monuments, and thus the regional government’s action comes as no surprise.
The Altai Project was an active member of the Save Ukok Coalition and while we were pleased that Gazprom took environmental and community concerns about the pipeline project seriously, we remained about potential economic development on the Ukok Plateau, part of the “Golden Mountains of Altai” UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Gazprom and China National Petroleum Corporation continue to negotiate and plan for a new eastern pipeline route, an action environmentalists hope will negate interest in building a western pipeline through Altai. China and Russia will likely always seek opportunities to build infrastructure (road, rail, pipelines, etc.) connecting the two nations across the 34 mile-wide (55 km) stretch of Russia-China border between Mongolia and Kazakhstan.