Russian Officials Offer to Burn Wood Instead of Oil

Governmental officials suggested the use of wood as a way to produce heating and electric power

Russian reformers have not paid any special attention to the Russian timber industry during a decade of economic reforms in the country. There were a lot more other things for officials to deal with: the privatization, wars with oligarchs, vertical integration of holdings, mergers, amalgamations and so on. It did not even occur to anyone to do something about the Russian forestry, until it turned out that the industry was in a total mess. Everyone is free to fell the Russian forest down and to export it. Furthermore, this is basically done by foreigners, presumably on a semi-legal basis. Russian officials set out their concern about the fate of the domestic forestry, they reported that to President Vladimir Putin. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov issued adequate strict instructions to ministerial departments, and the controversy calmed down to a certain extent. The silence was broken by the Russian Congress of Forestry Specialists. As it was officially informed, the meeting gathered a lot of senior officials, including First Deputy Minister for Natural Resources Valery Roschupkin, deputy presidential envoy in the Central Administrative District of Russia Vasily Kichetzhi, as well as representatives of largest enterprises of the Russian forestry.

The participants of the congress established the coordination board for the cooperation between the State Timber Service of the Russian Ministry for Nature and the timber industry. The basic goal of the new administrative board is to elaborate recommendations for settling the problems of the domestic timber industry, to provide the efficient administration of it and to maintain the timber fund. First Deputy Minister for Natural Resources, Valery Roschupkin, stressed out the fact that the board was not established for pursuing certain political goals. As the official said, the prime goal of the board is to provide counteraction. However, some members of the new board said that such statements were released as an attempt of a politically correct declaration. Valery Roschupkin stated at the press briefing, which followed the meeting, that the Russian forestry was used in an irrational way, although he mentioned that the self-reproduction of forests “considerably exceeded the internal needs of the country.” As the ministerial official believes, the unused part of the overmature wood might become a good fuel substitute for the energetic industry of the country: the wood might substitute up to 70 million tons of oil every year. As Roschupkin stressed out, forest is a resource, which could be reproduced, in contrast to oil and gas. One shall assume that the Russian government is intended to export the domestic oil.

The oil extraction made up 379.631 million tons in Russia in 2001; the gas extraction made up about 600 billion cubic meters, according to the information of the State Statistics Committee. The majority of both oil and gas is used as fuel in the energetic industry. Yet, 350 million cubic meters of wood might be used as alternative fuel, in the official’s opinion. This is capable of substituting more than one-fifth of the entire volume of oil and gas that is extracted in Russia every year. Valery Roschupkin believes that this will result in a more rational use of such sources that cannot be renewed (oil and gas).

Of course, there can be some logic found in the statement of the official from the Russian Ministry for Natural Resources. However, forests are very important from the point of view of ecology. There is a strong lack of pure air in Russia, taking into consideration the fact that the energetic complex of the country is technologically oriented on burning gas, not woods. It would take too much money to re-equip enterprises. Needless to mention, that there is a very strong lack of financial resources in the country too. The field of public utilities has a lot of debts to pay to energy enterprises, while the latter complain of their pressure for money too. Will there be any economic effect achieved then? Furthermore, it goes without saying that the income from the additional oil export will be saved in oligarchs’ offshores and in the State Treasury. It will definitely not reach the energetic field.

However, the offer from the ministerial official was rather actively supported in the State Duma of Russia. Alexander Belyakov, the chairman of the State Duma committee for natural resources said that law-makers seriously considered an opportunity pertaining to the use of the overmature wood as a real alternative to fuel. According to his words, deputies believe that forest might change the majority of the traditional fuel (gas) that is used for the production of heating and electric power. As far as ecology is concerned, deputies believed that the price of wood was comparable to the price of gas, while its use will be more pure from the ecological point of view. Russian deputies estimated a possible economic effect of that – the dividend for Russia’s regions and for the federal center. Alexander Belyakov stated that the Russian budget is formed on the base of the oil and gas export, although Russia is the richest country in terms of wood reserves. However, Finland, which borders on Russia, manages to earn approximately 50 billion dollars on its wood, taking into consideration the fact that Finland is not on the top five of wood-producing countries. Finland exports the production that is made of wood: furniture, cardboard, paper. Mr. Belyakov added that Russia accumulates more than one-fourth of world’s wood reserves on its territory, while the budget of the country receives not more than one billion dollars a year from the timber industry. Furthermore, Russia exports its wood basically as wood, not as wood production. However, it did not occur to Russian deputies to modernize domestic timber enterprises. They simply offered to burn the wood for the production of heating and electric power. It is very hard to see any economic effect in this scheme. However, it is clear that Russian grand wood reserves would soon be exhausted in this case. Why not using excessive coal for that, for instance? At least, such an approach would make the coal industry of Russia rise, it would allow to provide jobs for a lot of miners, who became unemployed as a result of coal industry reforms.

Valery Roschupkin from the Ministry for Nature, stated that the new approach to the timber industry on the whole, the use of new mechanisms for administering the field, has already been submitted as amendments to the incumbent Timber Code of Russia. As the official said, the new Timber Code of the country would change the entire law-making ground of forest utilization. As it is scheduled, those amendments are to be introduced in the law already in 2003.

Akhtyam Akhtyrov PRAVDA.Ru

Translated by Dmitry Sudakov