Two documents published today by the CEE Bankwatch Network criticise plans for a proposed oil export pipeline in Georgia. The papers Quality Analysis of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Draft Report for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline: Georgian Part and Comments on Draft ESIA Report for BTC pipeline (Georgia) find many deficiencies in a report on the Georgian section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. This report, the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), was released earlier this spring.
While at first glance the ESIA contains all relevant information, we have identified major shortcomings that could have impacts not only on the livelihood of affected communities and fragile environment of Georgia, but also create problems in other areas of the country's economic development.
One shortcoming of the ESIA is that it lacks baseline socio-economic and environmental data, making any proper analysis of its findings difficult. Furthermore, mitigation measures to offset damage caused by construction and operation of the pipeline rely on an as-of-yet unwritten Environmental and Social Management Plan. Meanwhile the analysis of the project's impacts and their magnitude are not based on sound scientific methods, leading to a significant underestimation of the impacts significance and a lack of adequate responses.
Few alternatives are discussed, and the ESIA merely compares the no-development and development option, defending the latter with potential positive effects, including supposed financial, social and environmental benefits. In truth, the BTC pipeline will only increase the country's ability to export oil more efficiently and even partially not address the problems of the affected communities: access to energy, unemployment and poor infrastructure, particularly roads. The only other potential positive effect specified by the company is increased employment opportunities, even though it admits that these benefits consist of a limited number of direct employment opportunities on the project, primarily short term jobs during construction, with fewer, longer term opportunities during operation. Such predictions clearly contradict the sustainable development that the project is supposed to offer the affected communities.
The ESIA lacks any consideration of alternative pipeline routing that might be environmentally preferable. While the Eastern Corridor was rejected owing to the length, the severe rugged terrain and environmental constraints associated with the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park, the ESIA accepted the Modified Central Corridor, which in fact crosses the buffer zone of the very same Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park plus the Ktsia-Tabatskuri managed reserve and such sensitive areas as Borjomi Mineral Water Aquifer and the Tsalka underground water reserves. Overall, the report uses suitable environmental data to justify final choices which were in fact based on technical and economic reasons.
The report tries to present the project in such a way that there are no risks and cumulative impacts, while ignoring the possibility of a major accident at the national or regional level. In addition, the draft ESIA fails to assess potential economic impacts on the mineral water industry in Borjomi. Since the quality of mineral springs within and outside of the Borjomi-Kharagauli Natural Park might be affected by the project, potential impacts should be assessed and mitigation measures along with a plan for compensation developed something which the report fails to do.
Other issues the ESIA fails to address are problems of land compensation, energy supply, safety, infrastructure development and employment. Furthermore, there is no indication that the project sponsor plans to improve the public participation process in order to increase affected communities understanding of the project's impacts and benefits. During almost every public hearing people expressed their dissatisfaction regarding the lack of information on the above mentioned issues.
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Green Alternative/CEE Bankwatch Network