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    LUKOIL retains “Nadezhda” // Issuance of a license for an oil field will require new studies

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    According to Kommersant‘s information, the discussion of granting Lukoil the Nadezhda oil field in the Baltic is dragging on. Not far from the site is the national park “Curonian Spit”. As Kommersant found out, the Ministry of Natural Resources expanded the boundaries of the national park’s buffer zone, extending it to coastal waters, but the Nadezhda site did not fall within the boundaries of the buffer zone. This increases the chances of granting a license to Lukoil, lawyers say. But the Ministry of Natural Resources still considers geological exploration near the borders of the national park to be potentially dangerous and proposes to conduct appropriate scientific research.

    The Ministry of Natural Resources has prepared an order to establish the boundaries of the buffer zone of the Curonian Spit National Park “along the border with the Baltic Sea.” Geological exploration is prohibited in the buffer zone, as this can harm the environment. The establishment of a buffer zone in the coastal area of ​​the Baltic depended on whether LUKOIL would be able to obtain a license for the Nadezhda oil field, which is also located not far (12 miles) from the coast – within the so-called territorial sea.

    As The explanatory note to the order states that “in order to preserve the integrity of the natural complexes of the Curonian Spit National Park as a single landscape formation, in the part of the 12-mile zone of internal sea waters and the territorial sea of ​​the Russian Federation adjacent to the western coast of the Curonian Spit, a protected zone of the national park passing along the line of the 20-meter isobath (about 2.5–4 km from the coastline).

    LUKOIL, which is the only subsoil user in the Baltic Sea, has been trying to obtain a license for Nadezhda since 2016. But the regulation on obtaining licenses on a declarative basis for exploration in the territorial sea and inland waters was adopted only in 2020. In 2021, the Ministry of Natural Resources sent a package of documents to the government to provide the Nadezhda site to LUKOIL, but at the final stage, according to Kommersant, the ministry suddenly had questions about the impact of developing the site on the Curonian Spit. According to Kommersant‘s information, LUKOIL provided documents on environmental monitoring in the Baltic Sea, but the issue was never resolved. “Kommersant” in the Ministry of Natural Resources. The extreme point of the Nadezhda section is located at a distance of about 2 km from the borders of the Curonian Spit National Park and about 1 km from the borders of the national park’s buffer zone, that is, the site is not within the boundaries of the park. However, the ministry believes that “the proposed geological exploration activities in the Nadezhda subsoil area and its provision to LUKOIL may harm the UNESCO World Heritage Site.” The Ministry of Natural Resources proposes to carry out research work to assess the impact of such work on the environment.

    The order directly affects the possibility of obtaining a license, Orchards adviser Azat Akhmetov believes: if a subsoil plot fell within the boundaries of the buffer zone, it development would be impossible. The boundaries of the protected zone of the Curonian Spit existed even before that, but the main object of protection of the national park was the Curonian Spit itself, its surface part, and the coastal water area was not protected before, the lawyer explains. Nevertheless, the underwater part of the Curonian Spit, which directly affects its stability, according to the authorities, should also be protected. Similar protection of the underwater part is carried out in relation to the Curonian Spit in Lithuania. Taking into account the fact that the protected zone of the national park runs along the line of the 20-meter isobath, and Nadezhda is located outside this protected zone, the adoption of the document may increase LUKOIL’s chances of obtaining a license, the lawyer believes. The spit is an unstable system with high dynamism, so the authors of the note refer to the proposal to increase the protected area at the expense of the coastal marine area, adds Yevgeny Yerbakhaev, adviser to the Kazakov and Partners law office. The admissibility of geological exploration work in the territorial sea will depend on the nature of the conclusion of the environmental impact assessment, he believes – the issuance of a license for geological exploration will be possible only subject to strict adherence to oil spill response technologies and ship routes along the border of the protected area.

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