Russian Environmental Prosecutor Eyeing 17 Oil Companies

Operational licenses at stake.

Russian environmental prosecutors are considering canceling licenses for 17 oil companies, including a subsidiary of state oil firm Rosneft, a top environmental. Rosneft-Puneftgaz may lose five licenses as a result of the cases, Sergei Sai, the head of environmental monitoring agency Rosprirodnadzor.

Russian environmental agencies have launched a massive campaign of environmental checks and threatened license removals in recent weeks, frequently at the initiative of Oleg Mitvol, the deputy head of Sai's agency.

"Licenses should be removed only in the most extreme, flagrant cases -- otherwise economic measures against negligent companies should be used, " RIA Novosti quoted ministry official Sergei Fedorov as saying. An initial wave of pressure against major foreign oil companies such as Shell, ExxonMobil and Total led to complaints by foreign officials of possible unfair treatment.

Agencies have since targeted Russian groups such as number one private oil producer Lukoil and GazpromNeft, the oil-producing branch of state gas monopoly Gazprom. The companies are accused of having failed to respect environmental norms in their activities, but many analysts see the initiative as part of a longstanding trend of tightening government control over the energy sector.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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