Bulgaria sees environmental threat from Russian oil pipeline

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A planned pipeline to transport Russian oil from Bulgaria to Greece could pose a threat to the environment, the environment ministry in Sofia said Tuesday.

Just days before Russian President Vladimir Putin was scheduled to visit Bulgaria to discuss the project, the ministry said in a statement that it would ask for the plans to be reworked before giving them its approval.

A key document on the possible environmental impact of the pipeline did not "list concrete measures for preventing leaks" in the Black Sea region of Burgas, the ministry complained.

"There is no guarantee that in the case of accidents there will be no irreversible damage on the (Burgas) bay as a whole, its flora and fauna as well as tourism," the ministry statement said.

As part of the project, Russia will ship oil to Burgas in tankers which will then be fed into the 280-kilometre (174-mile) pipeline to the Greek port of Alexandroupolis.

The environment ministry said it would give the joint-stock Bulgarian-Russian-Greek company two months to rework the document before it could review it again.

The ruling comes just four days ahead of a planned energy-focused visit to Sofia of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Sofia has already expressed reservations about the pipeline and the ruling could provide an argument for Bulgaria to pull out of the project completely.

Both Russia and Greece have recently intensified pressure on Bulgaria to endorse the project, despite strong opposition from environmentalists and local residents.

The pipeline plans to carry oil from the Caspian Sea to Europe avoiding the busy Bosphorus strait, but it would also pass through protected nature reserves near Burgas.

© 2010 AFP

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