Pipe Route Altered on Spill Fears

Transneft said Tuesday that it would shift the route of an oil pipeline to Asian consumers on environmental demands, increasing project spending by 20 billion rubles ($846 million).

The eastern Siberia link to the Pacific Ocean will run downstream of Khabarovsk on the Amur River near China after local authorities and environmentalists raised concerns that water supplies may be polluted in an accident, said Mikhail Barkov, a vice president of state oil-pipeline operator Transneft.

The new path will add 120 kilometers to the pipeline, and the time frame for completing the project should not change, Barkov said. He declined to give a deadline. "Our initial route was no less safe," he said.

President Vladimir Putin already added at least $1 billion in costs to the project in 2006 when he ordered that the first of the pipeline's two stages be moved to circumvent Lake Baikal, the world's largest body of fresh water.

The project's first phase comprises a link from Taishet, in eastern Siberia, to Skovorodino, near the Chinese border, and a refinery near Nakhodka on Russia's Pacific coast. It will be completed in the fourth quarter of 2009, a year later than planned, Barkov said.

Transneft plans to finish the first phase at a cost of about 303 billion rubles, chief executive Nikolai Tokarev said in March. The second phase to the coast may cost 330 billion rubles and take four years to build, RIA-Novosti reported last month.