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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Stepashin Says Total Guilty of Violations

France's Total has committed "significant" environmental violations at an Arctic oil and gas development, the Audit Chamber said Monday.

Foreign-controlled energy projects have come under increasing pressure from the Kremlin in recent months as it pursues a drive to secure majority state control in major oil and gas fields.

Sergei Stepashin, the head of the chamber, also said Total was behind schedule developing the Kharyaga field, and that oil production targets were not being met.

"Consequently, this is resulting in a shortfall in revenue to the budget of the Russian Federation at various levels," Interfax quoted him as saying.

A Total spokeswoman said the company had no immediate comment.

Total has a 50 percent interest in Kharyaga, and Norway's Norsk Hydro holds 40 percent, while an oil company controlled by the regional government holds the rest.

In October, Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev said the Kharyaga project had many violations, but signaled that the French oil giant was not in any danger of losing government permits -- at least not immediately.

Separately, Stepashin said a probe by his chamber into the giant Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project had uncovered some $5 billion in ecological damage to the far eastern island where it is based, RIA-Novosti reported.

Sakhalin-2 had been controlled by Shell until it and its Japanese partners sold a majority stake to state gas monopoly Gazprom for $7.45 billion in December amid intense regulatory pressure.

It was not immediately clear how the $5 billion figure had been calculated, however. A spokeswoman for the Audit Chamber said she was unable to comment on Stepashin's remarks.

A separate investigation into the full extent of the environmental damage at Sakhalin-2 by the Natural Resources Ministry is due to be completed no earlier than March, Dow Jones Newswires said, citing a ministry spokesperson.

Other major foreign-led oil and gas projects around Russia have come under closer scrutiny in recent months.

The environmental watchdog agency said last week that it was preparing to check the giant Kovykta gas field in eastern Siberia that is owned by TNK-BP in what analysts say foresees another move by Gazprom to take control.