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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fears Pipeline Will Spoil Water

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Baltic Pipeline System has been sharply criticized by St. Petersburg officials for endangering drinking-water quality and potentially landing the city with a $1 billion bill to find and construct an alternative water source.

At a news conference Friday, Boris Usanov, an adviser to the city's economics committee, said a letter from state officials received in January recommended that the St. Petersburg administration find a source of drinkable water other than the Neva River, which runs through the city.

Officials from Vodokanal, the city's water monopoly, and environmentalists have expressed fears that the proximity of the BPS to the Neva endangers the supply of drinking water to the whole of St. Petersburg.

But a spokeswoman for the State Environment Committee for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region, which sent the letter, shrugged off the complaints Monday in an interview, saying an alternative supply for St. Petersburg had been under discussion for 50 years.

"Discussion of [such a] source has nothing to do with the pipeline," said Tatyana Zakharova, press secretary for the environment committee.

The only possible source would be Lake Ladoga, Europe's largest freshwater lake, she said.

"It is a well-known fact that the water in Lake Ladoga is cleaner than [that of] the Neva River, and that is why it would be better to take water from the lake.

"As for those environmentalists, all of them work for Western publications, and it is a well-known fact that the West is not interested in seeing Russia's exports develop," she said.

The 2,400-kilometer BPS is to deliver oil from the Timan-Pechora region, in the Komi Republic, and from western Siberia to a $3.7 billion port in Primorsk, located 150 kilometers northwest of St. Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland. The port, which is under construction, is to give the nation's oil direct access to the Baltic for the first time since 1991.

The BPS is set to run between St. Petersburg and Lake Ladoga on its way north, and will pass underneath the Neva near the town of Kirovsk, not far from where the river and Ladoga meet.

The cost of supplying St. Petersburg with water from Lake Ladoga, including chemical purification of the water, would be around $1 billion, said Irina Dariyenko, director of mains water services at Vodokanal, at the press conference.

"Neither the city nor Vodokanal can afford [this sum]."

While admitting that the city was examining ways of finding a new source of water, Usanov said that "to [initiate] this now, while the BPS is being built, is not possible - not technically, [and] not financially.

"If [finding an alternative source] is a condition of the project, then those building the pipeline must find the finances to make sure that [St. Petersburg] is able to construct such a source."

The city budget for 2000 totals 34.1 billion rubles, ($1.2 billion).

Oleg Bodrov, the head of the environmental organization Green World, said the area around Kirovsk was a potential earthquake zone; an earthquake could rupture the pipe and spill its contents into the Neva.

In addition, a Greenpeace report in April said up to 20 million tons of crude oil - about 6 percent of national output - leaks, spills or is wasted every year.

Captain Yury Karpov, head of the Emergency Situations Ministry's department that deals with maritime accidents in St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region, said the threat of disaster caused by the BPS was unlikely. Karpov said he was more worried by the prospect of an oil spill at or near Primorsk.

But he said if an accident should happen, "We do not have the resources to deal with it."

Transneft, the state oil pipeline monopoly that is in charge of the BPS, could not reached for comment Monday.