Sakhalin: the Edge of the Earth

Sakhalin is an island located North of Japan in the North Pacific Ocean. It is a part of the Nation of Russia. The island and its surrounding sea is rich in oil and gas, and has become the new attraction for oil and gas companies. Two thirds of the geography of the island is considered mountainous and it has a population of nearly 700,000. Below is a map showing its location.

Sakhalin Location
Indigenous People:
The native inhabitants of the Island are made up of three major groups. These people are called the Nivkhs, the Ainu and the Oroks. It is believed that these native people first started inhabiting this island since the last Ice age, as far back as 14500 BC. The three groups traditionally lived in separate parts of the Island. The map below shows their dispersion.

Sakhalin Tribes map
Oil and Gas Exploration:
Since the collapse of the USSR the island has experienced a resources boom. In 1996 two consortia were signed to explore for oil and gas off the north east coast of the Sakhalin. These two projects are called Sakhalin I and Sakhalin II.

It is estimated that the area potentially contains 1.2 billion barrels of crude oil and 500 billion cubic meters of natural gas. Below is a map showing the location of offshore platforms and onshore processing facilities. The icy waters in winter make it difficult to transport the oil away from the rigs. Therefore the oil has to be pumped down a pipeline on the island to an oil export terminal on the warmer part of the island.

Sakhalin Oil Gas Rigs map
Environmental Impact: The Western Gray Whale

One of the main environmental concerns of the the project is its effect on the endangered Western Pacific Gray Whales. This mammal is said to have existed for 30 million years. Activity from the project is disputed to disturb the endangered species. Ironically the place north east of Sakhalin is an important feeding ground for the whales in summer and it is exactly where the oil and gas deposits are. The map below shows the whale’s habitat.

Gray Whale habitat map

River and Sea Contamination Hazard

Onshore pipelines have been built on the island to pump the oil from north east deposits to the oil export terminal located on the southern tip of the island. These pipe lines cross many rivers and streams and there are fears that they could become contaminated by a spill or an accident. Sakhalin is located on many fault lines so there are fears of an earthquake rupturing these pipes.

The fishing industry is essential to the livelihoods of many Sakhalin families as the rivers and sea contain salmon, a major export of the island. The contamination of the rivers would devastate the fishing industry. Moreover an oil spill off the coast of the island would be equally devastating to the local fishing industry.



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