Archive – Keeping pipelines off Ukok [2011]

The Altai gas pipeline is a proposed natural gas pipeline to export natural gas from Russia’s western Siberia to northwestern China.

It will travel from northern Siberia’s Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Region south to Novosibirsk, Barnaul, the Ukok Plateau, through the Kanas mountain pass, to Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’s West–East Gas Pipeline in China.

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 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 minority Indigenous people, claim the entire Plateau as a cultural site)
  • Passage through and damage to the UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Environmental damage to landscape, damage to wildlife diversity, changes to migratory routes and habitats
  • Increased access for poachers using service roads
  • 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, UkokPlateau, etc.)
  • Changes or restrictions in access to traditional natural resource use by Indigenous peoples

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