Environmental groups are demanding a public inquiry into a plan to build a China-Russia natural gas pipeline across the Kanas Lake area, an area in Xinjiang renowned for its spectacular scenery and rare wildlife and fauna.
Concern has been growing since a report published last Monday by China Business News said that a panel of experts set up by the Ministry of Forestry had given the go-ahead for the pipeline, which would be about 2,000 kilometres long.
Wang Yongchen, a Beijing-based environmentalist, called on the authorities to release a public statement spelling out their intentions and the construction plans.
'Such a key national programme should not be a decision taken by a few officials only,' she said, 'especially those officials who think economic interests rate above everything else.'
Xiong Yang, of the Chinese NGO Green River, said most environmental groups were worried about the project. 'There's no official announcement from the authorities to let the public understand how and where the pipeline will go through the Kanas Lake area. It lacks a public hearing, let alone supervision,' he said.
'Such a long-distance gas pipeline would make it hard to prevent forest fires, soil pollution, gas leaks and explosions by any possible human-made accident or natural disaster. Japan's quake-damaged nuclear plant is a good lesson. Why don't the authorities rethink this?'
Spokesmen from China National Petroleum Corporation, the largest oil producer in China, and the Ministry of Forestry declined to comment yesterday, saying the relevant officials were unavailable to offer further details.
Chi Chongqing, the Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang's Tourism Bureau, defended the pipeline on Friday, saying the project would have minimal environmental impact, according to Sina.com.
Yesterday, Chen Sidong, spokesman for the Tourism Bureau, said it had limited input in the decision but had sent China National Petroleum Corporation and the ministry advice on how to protect Kanas Lake, such as running the pipeline underground or avoiding important areas for wildlife and fauna. The area is nestled in the deep forests and mountains of Altay prefecture, on the northern border with Russia.
CNPC has been in talks with Moscow for years to build a gas pipeline stretching across Russia as the mainland seeks more energy for its fast-growing economy.
In 2006, CNPC and Gazprom, the largest oil and natural-gas producer in Russia, signed an agreement that China could build two pipelines, including the west line that must pass through the Kanas Lake area.
The planned 4,000-kilometre pipeline, of which almost half would be within Russian territory, is designed to be able to transport 30 billion cubic metres of gas a year. Some 20 billion cubic metres of that are expected to go to China and the rest to South Korea.
According to mainland media, the project is targeted for completion by 2018.