Russia: Island on the Edge
A rough, new energy frontier
BY Nick Guroff
May 17, 2007
Background Story Links
For more coverage of the petro-politics surrounding Sakhalin Island's vast oil and gas reserves, and for some history of the island, follow these links.
Nick Guroff is a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism. Before attending Berkeley, Guroff was a grassroots organizer, working for a number of state, national and international nonprofits. He is currently finishing his third film, a look at the unlikely meeting between Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and American radicals in the 1980s. Sakhalin was Guroff's fourth reporting trip to Russia, where he has many distant relatives and studied as an undergraduate.
Sakhalin Island is what international oilmen might call a "hardship post." It is on the very edge of the Russian Far East, the historic equivalent of America's Wild West. The narrow, 600-mile-long island is populated by only half a million people, and its seasons are severe even by Russian standards. But underneath the surface of the island and the surrounding seas is enough oil and gas to power the United States for as much as a decade.
Ten years ago, energy giants Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil and other multinationals negotiated contracts with a Russian government hard up for cash and eager for foreign investment. Deals were made to extract Sakhalin's oil and gas for export to markets from Shanghai to San Diego. Moscow was promised a cut of the profits once the projects got out of the red.
Then the protests started ... over environmental damage, public health and the rights of indigenous peoples. For the most part, Moscow stayed out of the fray. But then, in 2006, with construction nearing completion on Shell's Sakhalin 2, the world's largest oil and gas project, the Kremlin intervened. The project was shut down, and the Russian national gas company, Gazprom, maneuvered to take it over. Some energy experts viewed it as a nationalist takeover under the guise of environmental protection.
While the power play between Western oil companies and the Russian government unfolded, I traveled the length of the 500-mile pipeline to see the project firsthand. I wanted to know what construction had already meant for the people living in its shadow ... and what difference, if any, Russian ownership would make.
My interest in the story began in 2002 in Novosibirsk, Siberia, nearly 2,000 miles away from Sakhalin. I had been invited by an American environmental group to lead some training workshops for Russian nonprofits. I witnessed Russia's burgeoning grassroots environmental movement and also became aware of the country's vast oil and gas reserves.
Several years later, news of the massive Sakhalin development and the protests it provoked made its way into national papers in the United States. It quickly became clear that events on Sakhalin were going to tell the outside world a great deal about the future of foreign investment, the growth of citizens' movements and the evolving role of the central government in Russia.
Sakhalin is a remote and rough place with a long, contentious history. In 1890, when the great Russian author Anton Chekhov visited Sakhalin, it was divided between the Japanese inhabitants in the south and the Russian prisoners in the czarist penal colonies in the north. The island was also home to hundreds of native peoples, such as the Ainu, the Nivhki and the Evenki.
During World War II, the island's wealth of natural resources was cause for the Soviets to wrest southern Sakhalin from the Japanese, deporting them and the Ainu wholesale from the island. The Russians began prospecting for oil, although fishing remained the mainstay for much of the island's population.
Today, the relics of Sakhalin's past litter the landscape -- ships rust near the island's main port; old Japanese paper mills decay along the coast; and military outposts built by Stalin to defend against a possible American invasion lie in ruins along the main road. Cratered dirt roads are the only means of transportation on most of the island, but signs of change and modern development are everywhere, from the boomtown capital, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, to the colossal offshore oil rigs. In many places I visited, it is hard now to imagine what the island was like before energy companies laid claim to this frontier territory.
-- Nick Guroff
About FRONTLINE/World Fellows
Nick Guroff's story about the Sakhalin oil and gas reserves is the latest story in the FRONTLINE/World Fellows program, sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. It is part of our ongoing effort to identify and mentor the next generation of video, print and online journalists.
The program, started in 2003, has showcased the work of talented young journalists, who have traveled across the world to report their stories. You can see them all here.
As part of the latest Fellows projects, made possible through our partnership with the U.C. Berkeley, Columbia and Northwestern Graduate Schools of Journalism, we will be publishing stories from China, Liberia, and Morocco in the coming weeks.
Comments/Reactions for this rough cut are now closed.
Sue Furick - Alexandria, VA
Excellent coverage! This made me stop and think about the parallels between this venture and the Alaskan pipeline. There, too, we affected the natural environment and its indigenous people. We need to push for alternative fuel sources. Thanks for making me think globally and not locally for a change!
Janna B - Herndon, VA
After reading this article and watching the video, I was made aware of a problem in Russia that I had not heard of. In a remote part of Russia in a town called Sakhalin, the local fishing economy and surrounding environment is being destroyed by the need for oil and gas. While the article touched on the devastation to the local landscape, i.e. erosion, contaminated well water etc. I found more articles that put more details and emphasis on the destruction to the local animal population. Like the salmon and other fish the sea eagle is fast becoming extinct due to the intrusion into their natural environment. Shell began the world's biggest oil and gas project, they have built several oil rigs and have placed more than 500 mile of pipes lining the extent of the island. Shell's hasty and irresponsible environmental programs, i.e. erosion tarps are not preventing the destruction to the land. The indigenous people of the area are suffering because of the change to their natural habit, while Shell's goal is to eventually have mostly Russian workers instead of foreign workers, this isn't beneficial to those who make their living based on fishing. Some environmentalists believe that fishing is the best provider of jobs. However the oil and gas mining is causing the fish to become sick or to die off. The filmmaker interviewed Shell as well as those protesters and the people of the area. Shell's spokesperson made several valid points. The environmentalists who are protesting their project are only showing the people the negatives to what is happening and that with change there is always going to be casualties.My question is when is enough, enough? An interesting fact, that after Shell had established the rigs and pipes and began to show the cost benefits, Russia "bullied" Shell into selling their controlling interest to a state owned gas company. Some saw this as the government trying to intercede on their behalf while most saw it as too little too late, no real changes have been made.Overall a very interesting!
J Brewster - Oak Hill, VA
I have only heard bits and pieces about this subject in the past couple of years. This article and video made several good points and there is a lot to think about. In my opinion the environmental issues are out weighting the benefits to the oil and gas that can be provide. I will be looking into what has transpired since this video was first published.
I see there is more to this story than we all know and Russia wants to claim their dominance in the world by staking their claim on oil than with weapons. Not to say that they are corrupted but to reestablish themselves.
This story sums up the story of the remote Russian island of Sakhalin, and what affects a major energy project has had on its people and the environment. The project in question is the largest energy project in the world, and many locals feel that the arrival of the large energy companies has forever changed their way of life. The story also tells the story of the Russian governments reaction to allegations that the project is billions of dollars over budget, and over time. But there is another story, and that is how the major projects have brought economic growth and stimulus to the islands chief city.What surprised me the most about this story is just how remote the island of Sakhalin really is. It's sparsely populated, and I feel that why the big companies feel they can get away with the work they are doing as far as the environment goes. What I can't say was surprising was the Russian virtual taking over that took place recently. With a controlling interest in the projects now, the Russian government now has a huge hand in whom the oil goes to, and how it's used.
It is very sad to know that here again money is the cause of danger to the environment to this island. The sad news for these companies such as Shell is that they were used as puppets by the government of Russia, for once the Russian government found out that the project was at advanced stage they took over the project and basically kicked out the American company.
I believe that there has to be away for the oil companies to attain the resources needed for the world to flourish, and the indigenous people be able to live a happy and healthy life. If Russia takes away their ability to live on fishing then they should be responsible in educating those people in a new trade. They need to be able to take care of their families and their selves. And since Russia is their government, it should be up to them to look after their people.
Paul Devine - Reston, VA
This story shows the issues involved with drilling in foreign countries with their own interests. We need to work to become less dependent on oil and as a result, less dependent on unstable or hostile governments.
This article shows that the Oil Giants like Exxon Mobil want to make a buck, But I'm glad the environmental problems it would have caused halted the project.
Thomas Busch is a founding member of the Youth Parliament Berlin-Reinickendorf, an institution created and led by young people to promote political youth participation in local communities.
This Shell-funded article is trying to tell us what? That the Gazprom is doing more environmental damage than the Royal Dutch Shell & ExxonMobil giants? What a masterpiece of propaganda!
Charlie Fontz - Chantilly, Va
The first thing that struck about the video and this article was the harshness of the climate and the monumental tasks that the oil companies are trying to accomplish. Also, I was very surprised to learn that the environmentalists are having such an impact. For some reason, I never equated the Russian people and environmentalism. I remember all the stories about the state of affairs in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union in which many environmental disasters were being discovered. The fact that these oil companies are willing to take such great risks and to expend so much money, speaks to the huge oil and gas deposits, but also to the tremendous demand. And of course, the oil companies and Russia would not be even attempting this project without the potential for a great pro=
I actually had no idea there was such a large oil project going on, on the island of Sakhalin. The video and article were really good in showing the concerns of the people living there and what the project is doing to the environment. Yes the oil does need to be secured but there really needs to be more thought and preparation put into such matters, people need to try harder to make sure that the environment doesn"t take a hit just because we need the oil. I"m sure that for the few years the project has been running the villages and island as a whole has been changed drastically from the time before the project started. As they showed the capital, some it has changed for the better and some people and places have benefited from the project but others have been hurt. Humanity needs to really take a closer look on how such projects are handled and stop drooling over oil and concentrate more on other resources that hopefully one day will replace our dependency on oil.
Located at the far east border of Russia on the northern border of Japan, Sakhalin is a Russian 600-mile long island which is populated by about half million indigenous people. The main industry for the indigenous people there is fishing. The weather there is characterized by its winter brutality. Before the WW II this island was partly part of Japan and partly part of Russia. In 1945 Russia claimed the whole island.Sakhalin floats on a sea of oil and natural gas. As a result, oil giants (Shell and ExxonMobil) started their business there. Of course the Russian Government was promised a good piece of the pie when it was ready. As usual, oil exploration and industry are always accompanied by environmental issues such as oil spills and land erosion. Consequently environmental activists and the indigenous people of the island started protesting against this huge exploration and production project. The cost for the project was estimated at about 19 billion Dollars which in 2007 reached 22 billion Dollars. Near the end Russia took over the project from Shell. The project now is controlled by Gazprom, the state-owned Russian gas giant. The Russians were able to talk Shell into the deal using the environmental protection disguise.When I heard the environmental activists in the video talking about fishing being much less harmful than oil production, I thought about over fishing in the sea and how harmful this can be. Actually some countries now are trying to promote sustainable fishing practices.There isn't any country in the whole world that does not benefit from oil, coal, natural gas, or any mining process. However, using our resources has to be controlled and governed by strict environmental standards. There are many environmental research agencies world wide that can audit and control our use of the Earth resources whether they are mineral, animal, or even plant resources.
In my opinion the oil is a known source and should be conserved as much as possible and preferably not used. Giant oil corporations that literally suck blood from the earth should invest in alternative sources so we as people do not have to depend on something that is limited and hurts the natural environment. Oil may be a necessity now, but we should really start finding better solutions instead off harvesting natural gases and burning our atmosphere using them. The Russian government and oil companies should also respect the natives because they do not want this in their environment.
- ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA
Before I read the article and watched the video, I didn't know about this Island and the important treasure that is hidden under its surface, unfortunately necessary for the common way of living in this planet.It's a good thing that companies like Shell try to find more reserves around the world, but we have to think that this resource is not going to
last forever and is going to end when we least expect it. Big companies should invest all that money that is used for drilling and find more ways of producing energy, time is clicking and we are running out of time.The article only talks very superficially about the environmental damage caused by this project. It does not cover any damage that has occurred to the life in the sea like the gray whales because of the underwater seismic work.
This made me think globally about how we need to look for other sources of energy. It seems to me that Russia wanted Shell to spend a lot of money on Sakhalin 2 and right when it's almost done they go have their own gas companies take it over.
Sara Ghods - Great Falls, VA
In many ways I think Russia was very smart in intervening when construction was almost halfway done. if you think about it, Shell had already invested billions of dollars in the pipeline project, and when almost completed the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources got behind the island's environmental movement surrounding the project and was threatened them with a $50 billion environmental lawsuit that risked them losing everything.
But many energy experts believe that Russia's intervention in the project was a nationalist takeover; they think that Russia decided to renationalize the Shell project under the state energy company, Gazprom. I think that this may have been a sneaky plan that Russia wanted to do all along, but I also think that environmentally, since the project was projected to effect the world's last 100 western pacific grey whales; as well as destroy the marine environment; and also threaten the life of tens of thousands of fishermen, Russia did not want to be the blame for those causes, as well as, they did not want foreigners to destroy their land, and uproot many people living in the area; it would be better if they controlled everything themselves.
The article focused mainly on the negative aspects of this oil project in Sakhalin. It delved into the pollution problem that negatively affects the fishing and caribou industry of the indigenous people. This project, to gain more access to oil, claimed to change the lifestyles of the fisherman with the oil spills and negative environmental effects. The video also stated that pipelines crossed over 1000 rivers and streams. This led to protests and the Russians claimed that Shell was not keeping with agreements they had made.
Shell ended up giving most of the control of the project over to the Russians. It is upsetting that the oil project is intervening in the lives of the innocent people in the community of Sakhalin. I believe it is important to get the oil, but to stay mindful of the people living in the surrounding community.
I knew that our country has been looking for new places to drill for oil and I had heard a while back about how drilling in different places was causing problems to the natives in those particular countries. However I was unaware of the project underway on the Sakhalin Island. I believe that it is necessary for us to find new ways for obtaining oil but I think we need to go about it is a different way.
The people inhabiting the area need to be taken into consideration, it is in fact their homeland. We are only just intruding. I am hopeful that somehow they could find a way to drill in places such as the Sakhalin Island, but that does not cause any harm to the indigenous people.
Perhaps these gas companies should be spending their time and money on finding new forms of energy. By doing so we could stop this fight for who has control of the world. We base a large part of our lives on oil and gas. It has become a necessity of our everyday lives and currently Russia is sitting on the largest supply of oil in the world but maybe we could find an alternative form to switch the game up.
After viewing this video and then researching what stages the project is at now 2 years later it is no surprise that it will be finished this year, 2009. The environmental experts were completely right that the Russian government was using their excuse of environmental concerns as a guise to gain more economic investment in the project.
Gazprom the Russian Oil company currently holds 50% and one share of investment in this project. Surprise surprise... It is obvious that the people of the island are destined to get the short end of the stick and it's unfortunate that when it comes to money nothing else matters.
The need for alternative methods for energy is so obvious especially now with these crazy gas prices and projects like this that create so many environmental and social problems.
- Reston, VA
After reviewing with most of the postings for this article, I agree with most of the postings for this situation in Sakhalin Island. It is very disturbing situation for the native people in Sakhalin. Both human and wildlife are exposed to hazardous conditions caused by a selfish act made from the Russian government. It is devastating to hear about the natives talk about how Sakhalin was once a beautiful place - now a place filled with muddy water, decaying landscape, fish with ulcers, etc. It is also shocking to see people swimming in bays that are located next to enormous oil tanks. This article is indeed very insightful, and it never occurred to me how much one thing can be so advantageous to people at one part of the region of the world while it is destructive to people on another corner of the world. Energy companies need to find alternative ways to find resources that does not compromise the health of the environment and its people and take extra precautions if drilling were to be continued.
Gino - Fairfax, VA.
I read the article and it is another reminder in how the big oil companies and the big money don't care about the environment and the native people living in the island. I am very surprised how the big oil projects can have an imense impact on a region rich in fishing and biodiversity resources.
I think, this is the time to choice other alternatives to our inscaiable interest for oil.I hope some day we will be less dependable on foreign gas and oil, and stop the oil company lobbyists bribing our congress to get favoritism and approving an inadequate environmental impact statement when oil companies are looking for more and more oil and gas.
Yes, privilege and power as a way to destroy a civilization that worked without having the devastating impact of capitalism. Makes sense to me! These oil companies can justify their motives all they want but in my opinion they're just interested in filling their own pockets at anyone's expense and trying to justify it.
Why fix something that isn't broken? I feel sorry for the people of Sakhalin, and their future. The land that they once knew is now destroyed. Even after all the resources are dried up they will always have their tombstone -- "oil refineries" as a memorial and reminder of what once was. I appreciate this piece of journalism. Very eye opening! Especially for those people that choose to keep them closed or are riddled with smokescreens.
Ben M - Silver Spring, Maryland
As a reviewer, I find that the video and article reinforce the fact that economic development and best efforts to avoid damage to the environment must always be joint undertakings.
This is a perfect example of big business stepping on whomever or whatever to make a buck. The residents of Sakhalin fight to maintain their peaceful lifestyle and their food source. Shell seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth by saying it's an environmentalist company protecting the natural resources of Sakhalin, but obviously this documentary tells a different story.
Adam Hood - Reston, Virginia
It is my belief that Russia disguised this takeover as an "environmental intervention." I do not believe that Russia will be any more environmentally friendly than Shell. To that end, I do believe that the drilling needed to be done. The world's oil supply will dry up in 50 years. These oil fields will have to be drilled at some point. We might as well do it now to alleviate gas prices. I think a good way to reimburse the people living on the island would be to cut them in on some of the profit from the sale of the oil.
This is why we need other sources of energy and fuel, because it is a very dangerous situation. Once a country finds out that there is a better source of fuel it can lead to war over who can and cannot gain access to it.
I think that until all the oil is used up, it is too lucrative to give up, and big oil will do anything it takes to milk every dollar out of it until an alternative energy fuel is widespread enough to overwrite fossil fuels. Just discovering an alternative doesn't mean everyone will be able to make the switch, not everyone can afford another car unless those geniuses that run the world are willing to hand out free alternative energy running vehicles to everyone.
The entire world is impacted by the use of oil. When are we in America going to learn that bigger is not always better and the environment and lives of people that we don't even know exist are suffering because of oil?
I found this article to be very interesting. One side wants to drill into Sakhalin's rich sources to make a profit and benefit other people. The other side doesn't want drilling because of the negative effect on the environment and native way of life. There are pros and cons to both views, but I think drilling should continue. If the energy companies were extremely cautious in making sure the pipelines didn't effect much of the environment, then the natives could continue their way of life. Dima Lisitsyn mentioned that the fishing industry provided more jobs. Indigenous people could still fish, but they could also work at the drilling company. Guroff stated that Shell employed an international work force-they could also include the natives.
Nick Guroff set out to see what was stirring up on the Sakhalin Island on the far-east coast of Russia. It is a small island only about 600 miles long with only about one half million people there. Temperatures on this Island can get as low as -30 degrees. Ten years ago the Russian government made a deal with energy giants such as Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil. This deal was to drill Sakhalin for its richest resource, oil. Sakhalin Island has the largest oil and gas deposits in the world. It is estimated that it can provide energy to the U.S. for at least a decade. The Russian government made the deal that once the project was "out of the red" (starting making a profit), they would get a cut. The Russian government had no consideration for the people of the Island allowing the world's largest oil and gas rig to be built. The people of Sakhalin's main livelihood is fishing, this is said to be the best industry for the people. The indigenous people of Sakhalin led a protest against these mega powers because of the environmental damage and public health. Fish in the area have reported to be diseased. It has also been reported that chemicals that were brought in on trains in barrels were carelessly off loaded, and the fluids leaked into the ground to contaminate the Islands water supply. David Greer, project director of the energy efforts in Sakhalin defends the project by saying this is a great benefit to Sakhalin. He also states that it is almost impossible for a project of this magnitude to not have any negative results, however, the bigger picture outweighs the minor setbacks and problems. David Greer says that they are compensating the indigenous people in terms of money but the people have a different story. They believe that these mega powers are feeding them false empty promises. Dima Lisitsyn who leads the Sakhalin Environment Watch says the oil business definitely brings big profit but his question is to who? But maybe this story has a silver lining. Due to heavy protest, the project was taken over by the Russian National Gas Company, Gazprom. Maybe this will help pipe more money into Sakhalin and help develop the Island. I feel if you're going to take a resource from a country, that country should be positively impacted and not negatively impacted. But as we all know money and greed destroys countries and people.
This report, while providing both points of view, concentrates on the negative impact of the project. For every picture of waste illegally dumped or streams clogged, there are areas where the impact is minimal, but not shown. Moreover, the Russian government used this issue as a pretext to take-over the project from Royal Dutch Shell. I had not realized how extensive the oil and natural gas holdings were in the region. While it is likely that some environmental harm has come from the project, with oil over $100us per barrel, this project will be an economic windfall for the Russian government and the Island of Sakhalin.
After watching this video, I realized how dependant the world is on oil and how they'll risk anything to get it. Although the U.S. and other countries are experimenting with new forms of energy, it is still sad to see that they are continuing to pollute small towns and villages because of the natural resources they have. After seeing this, it makes me wonder why it took so long for countries to want to help the environment and stop relying on natural resources that are scarce.
This is one of those cases where you must weigh the rights of the people against the needs of the world. I sympathize with the people of Sakhalin and am reminded how much more treasured some areas hold their traditions and cultural values. I feel there is without a doubt a need for oil in today's world, however this appears to be another case where the oil companies are not meeting their responsibility to work with a community, and meet the needs of the world with the needs of an indigenous group of people.
- reston, va
I agree with the majority of the previous posts that the focus after reviewing such an article should be on finding alternative sources of fuel as opposed to placing blame on whether or not Russia's motivations are adequate and proper. The entire oil and gas process from drilling to refinement to commercial use proves that it is neither the cleanest nor the safest form of energy. The video/article not only displayed how peoples' quality of life and health are being negatively impacted by drilling but how the environment is suffering as well. Whether or not Russia's motivations are for the people and creatures of Sakhalin or for their own financial gain, I believe the right thing to do at this time would be to cease the project.
This article taught me about people and places that I had never heard of, such as Sakhalin Island and the native Ainu and others. If it were not for the protest of these people, we would never hear about the impact that projects such as this one have on the environment and people of a region. The project is massive in size, spanning hundreds of miles and effecting two coasts. There is an argument that such development brings jobs and money, but for how long and who gets the money? The people of the island seem to know the answer and it is not in favor of the oil and gas industry.
Russia: Island on the Edge by Nick Guroff brings to the forefront, once again, the dilemma we have all felt for the last several years. Natural resources, in this instance oil and gas, are finite. We are using them faster that we can find more. In our zest to discover untapped areas, we are being very myopic and not taking into consideration the affects our fervor can have on indigenous people.
It's not that astonishing to see how big oil projects can have such an immense impact on a region that once only relied on fishing. So many lives here were changed along with the establishment of this greed-hungry industry and an environment perhaps permanently damaged. It's sad to see how we can leave such a large scar in our quest for natural resources. Perhaps the oil companies could invest in encouraging growth within the communities while excavating along their lands, a trade-off of sorts.
Brittan Orr - Purcellville, VA
Oil is one of our nation's most sought after and highly demanded resources. Every day, the U.S. consumes 21 million barrels of oil, at $135 per barrel. That totals $1 trillion per year on oil, the equivalent of 15% of the $6.8 trillion that taxpayers make every year. Additionally, every time the price of oil increases $60 per barrel, the U.S. spends an additional $38 billion per month and $450 billion annually. With oil prices soaring so high, governments are looking for a way out, even if it is a short term solution. But at what point is the cost of oil too high? Is permanently destroying the environment, wiping out an entire species, sacrificing the health of the public and revoking human rights worth the cost? Nick Guroff, the author of Russia: Island on the Edge, explores that question. Sakhalin, a narrow 600-mile-long island along the eastern edge of Russia, is faced with that question. The island is inhabited by approximately 1 million people living in indigenous communities that rely heavily on the fishing industry. 10 years ago, Shell, ExxonMobil and other International oil companies negotiated a contract with the Russian government allowing them to extract Sakhalin's oil and gas if they followed certain environmental laws and gave a portion of the profits to Moscow once they were out of the red. But, in 2006, when Shell's Sakhalin II was near completion, protests started so Kremlin shut the project down and the Russian national gas company, Gazprom, took over. Even when under new control, key salmon fishing areas have been destroyed by the dumping of 1 million tons of waste into the sea. The biggest factor to consider is what could happen in the future, with so many large oil tankers coming and going, the threat of an oil spill is inevitable. Toxins that have seeped into the groundwater have made the well water "undrinkable" the fish are getting very sick and are "covered in ulcers", and the "rivers and streams are the color of rust." In a community where the livelihood depends on the fishing industry, I don't understand how the Russian government expects the people to live if they keep poisoning the rivers. But, if you talk to any of the projector's managers they would tell you that, "this is the best thing that could happen to Sakhalin, and that this is the future for energy." If this is what the future looks like, I certainly hope that I'm not around to see it. In Gruoff's closing paragraph he describes the relics left behind on the Island; rusting ships, decaying Japanese paper mills, and Stalin's military posts. Throughout the Cold War and World War II, Sakhalin has managed to keep its head above water, but by cutting its resources off completelty, it isn't long until it's taken all that it can, and Sakhalin and its inhabitants as we know them will be gone forever.
This article was quite interesting in how it presented arguments and debates concerning the possibility of drilling for oil and the effects it would have on both native people and enviorment.
Under the auspices of environmental concerns, in 2006 the Russian government shut down Shell's Sakhilin project, and handed control over to its state run oil company, Gazprom. Additionally, they reached an agreement with Shell Oil in which Shell needs to pay reparations for environmental damages and cost overruns associated with the project. It's impossible to really know whether Russia's concerns are environmental or economic, but who loses for certain are the island's residents, now with two limp industries - oil and gas exploration, and fishing.
In the case of Sakhalin Island, a place I had never heard of before reviewing this article and its accompanying video, I think that drilling oil and natural gas should only occur depending on how much the world needs these resources. If Shell and other energy giants began the pipeline purely for profit reasons, then I believe their incentive was wrong. On the other hand, the world's reliance on gas and oil, at least for now, is strong. If the pipeline ends up providing 8% of the world's LNG, then this project may prove its worth. However, I am a strong supporter of finding alternative resources to oil, so ideally, I would prefer to see these energy companies spending their money on investigating alternative fuel types.My other main opinion concerns the indigenous peoples and wildlife of Sakhalin Island. The interruption of these peoples' historic lifestyles reminds me of the pilgrims invading the American Indians' land. Although Shell promised to pay $300,000 a year towards an indigenous peoples' fund, they were ousted from the pipeline project by Gazprom. It seems unfair that the island people got caught in the middle of this takeover; now, it is unclear what kind of payment they will get in return for the use of their land. In the meantime, plants and animals have died due to erosion and oil spills. Though David Greer, project manager of the pipeline for Shell, said that violations of the land have actually been few and far between, no violations would still be better than even one violation. This further supports my reasoning that the pipeline should shut down, and alternative fuels should be investigated, instead.
What have we done to this world?? Will we continue environmentally polluting it without a care for Human life and existence? It is clear we have to find other forms of energy to also stop the power play of who is going to control the world? Will it be Russia in the future (afterall they are sitting on the world's largest supply?????)
This story is another reminder of how drilling for oil impacts the life of people and destroys the and they live on. If the oil companies can spend this much money and time on a failed project, why can't they come up with a renewable fuel source? Our natural resources will not last forever.
This seems like an environmental disaster for oil just enough to power the U.S. for 10 years. This is not a good source for oil and is destroying the environment in general.
Reading this report, one is unable to see the damage done to the area. By watching this video, one can see how ridiculous life is now for the locals as a result of the oil and gas companies moving in. The people are exposed to abandoned barrels that contaminate their streams, leaving them rust-colored; people swimming in the bays have views of large holding tanks and old half-sunken ships; and the fish that these people rely on as a part of their diets smell like oil and have developed nasty ulcers on them, making them inedible. It is unbelievable sometimes just how badly humans damage not only the earth, but each other.
Matthew Smith - Ashburn, VA
We may not like it, and there may be changes in the future, but now the world runs on oil. Likely we will search until every drop is gone. It is unfortunate that local people must swim in the shadows of huge repositories. I hate that some streams are muddy. The anti-freeze containers were carelessly disposed of and Shell should have been fined for that. However, right now, that area is much better economically than if they were merely fishing those waters. The two industries can coexist. Kudos for the Russian government for abandoning the shoddy deal they signed when they were in a weakened economic state. They wouldn't profit until the project profits? That is insane. I take my cut from the source when I do business.
This article was written by Nick Guroff and is about the Agreement with Shell, a gas/energy company, and Russia in order to build a drilling and piping system that would export natural gas from the Russian island Sakhalin. Major cities in the United States and Russia are depending upon natural gas for their business and daily life. However pipelines and factories such as these are making life difficult for the people who have settled and lived there for hundreds of years. Native peoples, such as the Ainu, the Nivhki and the Evenki rely on fishing for their business and lifestyles. Pipelines are blocking rivers and factories and leaking oil into the bays. This is destroying the environment of this beautiful island and endangering its people. It has now been sold to a Russian energy company due to contract violations and protesting of Russia's native people. I think this is a very informative article. I did not know how the need for gas is effecting environments such as Sakhalin. I think we should find a better source of energy or find ways to obtain gas without blocking rivers and polluting waterways and soil. I suggest an underground factory that is inventive in that it would never allow for a spill. These pipelines could be completely under rivers as well. These methods that these companies use are obviously problematic for people. It is shocking that the Shell continues these projects knowing that village people will suffer. If that is ever the case than other methods should be used.
- Vienna, VA
Geographically, it makes sense that eastern Russia would be an oil rich area, especially given the United States' interest in Alaska's resources, but I had honestly never given much thought to the possibilities of areas outside the Middle East, Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska. We hear so much about the effects of drilling on the Alaskan wildlife that the concern for Sakhalin Island, Russia was not on my radar. This article opened my eyes to the more global issue of environmental effects caused by our dependence on oil and gasoline.
I found this story to be quite insightful, I loved how it was able to show how something (like oil drilling) can be so beneficial to people at one end of the world and then that same thing can be detrimental to people in a different part of the world. It just shows how we need to come to a major consensus on how we are going to attack problems and obtain resources without affecting others, and that is no easy task.
Interestingly, the Russian government agreed to the conditions of these companies at the onset but has recently become more and more interested in environmental issues; eventually leading to an almost violent assumption of control of the projects. In the aftermath, some also estimate that Shell may have to pay as much as one billion dollars per year for the damage caused to Sakhalin. When you consider all of the factors at play, I think one has to wonder about Putin's motives. Some of the locals question if this is truly a display of concern for the local citizenry, or if there are much bigger "political games" at play here.
In my opinion, Sakhalin has been exploited because of its abundance of natural resources. The oil that lies beneath Sakhalin's soil will forever change the island and its people. Fishing will continue, but will pale in comparison to the money that the oil will bring to the area. The people of Sakhalin seem to understand their heritage, though. They have protested for the environment and the people of Sakhalin. If they continue to fight for the rights as the inhabitants of that island, maybe some balance can be reached. The oil industry should further strive to improve environmental conditions surrounding any oil and gas extraction areas.
I believe that the Russians just wanted to be able to cash in on the vast amount of oil and natural resources on Sakhalin Island, which is not a bad thing. I just think they used the environmental issue to get the big oil companies off their land so they could drill or work there. While there might have very well been an environmental issue, the takeover by the Russian government is probably not going to solve the issue. The Russian government is probably still going to drill for oil for its own monetary gain. Therefore, it is not even certain that the Russian government is going to have a better effect on the environment than the oil companies.
James Brown - Reston, Virginia
This is a very thought provoking piece. Journalism is in a transition period. Print journalism is disappearing. The "in depth" reporting previously undertaken by important print journalists is becoming a dying art. In this environment, it is very important that a new generation of "media journalists," who are able to function in this new environment are established. Hopefully, with the advent of the Internet, this new generation will be able to move the quality of journalistic endeavor far beyond what was possible before. Mr. Guroff demonstrates in this piece the potential to be one of the new kind of journalists who are very much needed.
Jerry Murphy - Syracuse, New York
Excellent portrayal of a very serious event. We worked on this same project. Several years ago all info from there stopped. Go back to before the Military moved in and see how the environment was abused from that time on. I believe as much as 20% of the hard woods on the Island are down and rotting. Pipeline to Japan?
M. B. - Washington, D.C
Great story and reporting... and all under seventeen minutes ! Loved how it addressed all the different parties involved. When will we ever be able to trust oil companies to conduct environmentally friendly operations? Sure would be interesting to know what has happened since Gazprom has taken over.
Jason Blalock - oakland, CA
Great job, well balanced. Must the picture be SO small? I would sacrifice a few minutes of upload time to see a larger picture. Image quality is important to really see that rust colored water, spotty salmon, and galloping caribou (or were they reindeer?). Nice balance, great work.
Sean Cannon - Los Angeles, CA
What an eye-opening piece. Great job. It has opened my awareness to our addiction to oil and the impact it has, in this case, Sakhalin Island. I look forward to seeing your next piece!
Mollie D - Mission, KS
How many other little corners of the world has this happened to? Very interesting piece.
Nice job, and balanced. I am an American living in Russia, and the Sakhalin project has been big news all year. I was skeptical about the enviromental impact, since the main objective seemed to be the government takeover of the project. However, your piece showed that the environmental impact was high.
Jay - Norfolk, VA
Were the Sakhalin people better of with Shell as a poor steward than with Gazprom?
Are the monetary commitments to the indigenous people being honored?
"Natural gas, the future of energy", give me a break.
Brian C. - Los Angeles, CA
This is truly an eye-opening documentary! Well done. I want to learn more about this.
stephen platenberg - washington, dc
A very well reported and produced piece. Very intriguing. Nice work, Nick.
San Francisco, CA
Great stuff. Important story. Please keep it up.
anne bacon - san francisco, california
It's lucky for all of us that someone's eyes are on this story. This is what journalism is for. thank you.
christopher michael - san francisco, ca
Thank you for this timely, fascinating report highlighting the largest oil development project in the world. As a supporter and regular viewer of PBS, it doesn't surprise me that this important, balanced and beautifully shot video may be found on Frontline. I appreciated Guroff's reporting style and efforts to ensure various viewpoints were heard and their actions were seen. Additionally, the footage following this massive project's web of offshore and onshore pipelines (500-miles of piping that crosses 1,000 rivers and streams), processing facilities, terminals and offshore platform illuminated the current and projected threats to the environment and the residents of Sakhalin and beyond. There is no doubt that role of Sakhalin's vast oil and gas reserves will continue to play a major role in facilitating our disastrous reliance upon oil. Guroff's report encourages us all to keep apprised of the developments in Sakhalin and further question the efficacy of the project and what appear to be incredibly hazardous and short-sighted practices of the companies involved.
Great job. I can't wait to see your third piece.
M. Slater - Midland, MI
I enjoyed this piece. Normally I'm skeptical of the PBS reporter running around the wilderness looking for environmental problems, but sometimes it's warranted. You handle it objectively. Thank you. Is there a longer version for broadcast?
FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
Not at the moment. Unfortunately, FRONTLINE/World only airs abut 4 to 5 times a year on the PBS series, Frontline. Our next episode is June.... We started our Rough Cut online videos as a way to publish more stories, and we began our Fellows program to give young journalists like Nick Guroff a chance to show their work on our Web site.
Every now and then a story originally done for our Web site does find its way onto one of our broadcasts. If that happens, we always alert the subscribers to our newsletter.
I thought this was a very interesting piece that showed some incredible footage of this oil project. But I'm not sure I'm completely convinced about the environmental impact. Also, I wanted to know more about how Russia is using the environment to take control of the rig. That to me seems the more important story.
Barbara Stearns - Webster City, Iowa
A very impressive piece of journalism on a very important issue. Keep up the great work.
Evan Paul - Washington, DC
Thank you for covering this important issue. Corporate social responsibility is all the rage nowadays and it's important to provide some balanced assessment of their claims.
This story shows Americans the impacts, both positive and negative, of our natural resource use on communities around the world. Keep more of these coming.
eric fetterman - denver, co
Wow, what an amazing story. Well-reported and totally showed all the sides. I love getting so much info in under 20 minutes.
- St. Paul, MN
The world is a small small place and I am grateful for videos like this to remind me of that fact....and hope others become aware as well. We need to be responsible in our actions...
Andrew Featherston - L.A., CA
This was a great piece of journalism about current and specific events that gives us the opportunity to keep history from repeating itself once again. This type of journalism offers all of us the opportunity to react and possibly prevent another native people from being displaced or completely destroyed by the interests of privilege and power.
Well done and beautifully shot.
anderson brian - minneapolis, mn
I wasn't aware of this mammoth project until I viewed this video. Thanks for showing how our dependence on oil is causing environmental and social problems on the other side of the globe.