The UNESCO mission to the Curonian Spit took place from 2 to 6 November 2003 as requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 27th session. At the time of the mission the oil production had not started but the platform and a pipeline had already been built about 22 km from the Curonian Spit and 3 km from the border of two States Parties.
While relevant international legal instruments exist, including the Convention on the Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (ESPOO 1991) and the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area (Helsinki 1992), the Russian Federation has not ratified either of these conventions. UNESCO and the Advisory Bodies were not made aware of the D-6 oil exploration project at the time of the evaluation of the property.
The mission learnt that the Russian Federation has followed its national procedure concerning the conservation measures against possible pollution from the Lukoil D-6 oil exploration. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has not, however, been undertaken jointly with Lithuania and the risk assessment and emergency plans do not cover the Lithuanian part of the Curonian Spit. Lukoil invited a Lithuanian working group formed by the order of the Lithuanian Prime Minister on "the safety of the project for the development of the D-6 oil field" in Kaliningrad from 13 to14 October 2003 and the working group could examine technical details of the project as well as the 17 volumes of the EIA carried out by the Russian Federation. This working group came to the conclusion that the Russian Federation employs the latest technology, which aims at zero discharge of oil pollutants. The authorities of Lithuania, nevertheless considered, as outlined in their submission of 31 October 2003, that they do not possess the necessary expertise to fully judge the quality and the impacts of the D-6 oil production project and therefore they requested to involve an independent international expert in undertaking the EIA in a transboundary context.
The mission considered that the possibility of oil pollution is of particular concern to Lithuania, as ocean currents and prevailing winds would carry oil spills towards the Lithuanian part of the coast within 1/2 to 7 days after an accident. The EIA, risk assessment measures and emergency plans are a fundamental principle guiding transboundary co-operation under the World Heritage Convention and they need to cover the whole of the Curonian Spit and not only the territory of the Russian Federation.
Furthermore, the mission found that excellent communication and co-operation exist between the two States Parties at the site management level particularly when dealing with conservation problems related to storm damage, minor oil pollution, tourism pressure and deforestation. There have been several joint conservation projects including the preparation of an atlas of the area that classifies the sensitive environmental zones of the Curonian Spit. On 5 November 2003, the mission convened a round table discussion where representatives of both States Parties agreed to hold an intergovernmental commission for bilateral cooperation in the area of environmental protection.
The Lithuanian Permanent Delegation informed the World Heritage Centre on 11 February 2004 that the oil production by the Russian Federation might begin during the first half of 2004 in the D-6 oil field in the vicinity of the World Heritage property.
The state of conservation report provided on 10 March 2004 by the Ministry of the Natural Resources of the Russian Federation highlights conservation efforts taken for the safeguarding the site including monitoring, public environmental education as well as scientific research. The report argued that satisfactory measures have been undertaken to ensure the safeguarding of the World Heritage property by outlining the EIA exercise carried out by the Russian Federation in 2003 as well as a series of past bilateral cooperation and contact with Lithuania concerning the preparation of the D-6 project. The authorities of Russian Federation however, raised their concerns about the oil exploration in Klaipeda port also in the Baltic Sea by Lithuania and its possible impact on the World Heritage property. The report did not refer to the commencement of the D-6 oil production by the Russian Federation.
The World Heritage Committee may interpret that Article 6.3 of the Convention ("each State Party to this Convention undertakes not to take any deliberate measures which might damage directly or indirectly the cultural and natural heritage situated on the territory of other States Parties of this Convention"), was violated by the Russian Federation if a joint EIA could not be completed with both States Parties before the commencement of the planned oil exploitation.
In the opinion of ICOMOS, the management of the property by the Russian Federation seems to concentrate almost entirely on the natural attributes and on the National Park with only a brief mention of traditional boats and archaeological sites. It would be therefore desirable if the State Party could acknowledge the cultural attributes more clearly in their management process and consider the threat of oil spills to relevant cultural aspects of the property.
IUCN reiterated its policy that no oil/gas operations should take place in any World Heritage site.
In accordance with the recommendation of the UNESCO mission of November 2003, the Advisory Bodies stressed the importance of organising an inter-governmental meeting between the States Parties in order to discuss how to carry out a joint EIA that covers the territory of both States Parties which shall lead to the preparation of a joint work plan for project implementation and prevention/mitigation measures to ensure the conservation of the World Heritage property. If both States Parties agreed with the procedure, an independent organisation may be consulted to assess the EIA carried out by the Russian Federation and to extend the assessment in a transboundary context.
The States Parties informed the World Heritage Centre that the inter-governmental meeting was held on 16 April 2004 in Vilnius, Lithuania, and that the report of the meeting was being finalised at the time of the preparation of this document.