Russia recognises bottom soil as a marketable product

Bottom soil is recognised as a marketable product in Russia. Credit: Vladislav Vorotnikov

On 16 December, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed legislation allowing bottom soil and sand to become marketable products to be used in construction operations, including government-run projects. The law, which will come into force in June 2020, also includes all kinds of hydrotechnical and dredging operations, both at sea and internal waters.

The terms of future dredging operation contracts would envisage that the bottom soil could either become a property of the regional government, in order to meet local demand in raw materials for construction, or property of the dredging company, the law stipulated.

“In particular, the bottom soil could be used to prevent flooding, as well as provide key infrastructure objectives in seaports,” the law said.

The only exception would be made if the soil or sand is found containing valuable minerals, the law said. In that case, it is up to the regional government to decide on the best way to utilise or dispose of it.

The new law could have important repercussions as it would increase the attractiveness of investing in dredging operations in Russia, deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology of the Russian Federation, Svetlana Radchenko, said. “In particular, the new law would allow the incorporation of private investment into some federal projects aimed to improve the ecological conditions of the Volga River,” Radchenko said.

The new law would have a positive impact on some important national projects in Russia, and eventually make dredging operations in the country cheaper, said Ivan Abramov, member of the economy policy committee of the Federal Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, during the discussion of the bill.

“Currently, this soil must be taken away and disposed of in some way. When the new law comes into force, if the bottom soil is found containing no valuable minerals or contaminating agents, it could be used to meet the various requirements of the municipalities and citizens,” Abramov said.

“The new law would also enhance dredging along the sea coast, which would improve the safety of commercial shipping. It would make ecological projects aimed to prevent shallowing a more interesting investment opportunity to private businesses in Russia,” said Svetlana Bassarad, member of the State Duma, the lower chamber of the Russian parliament.

A big question remains, “how will bottom soil be priced”? As it is no longer needed to be disposed of, which could be rather costly in some cases. The main interest would be the river sand and soil, because they have a higher value in the construction industry than in the sea sand, he added.

Bottom soil is in high demand

There is also a need for the new law as there are signs that the world is running out of bottom sand, according to a report posted in the Russian Gazette, the official publication of the Russian government, on 1 December.

The global demand for mason sand is estimated at 55 billion tonnes per year, and it is projected to grow with the continuing urbanisation in the world, the Russian Gazette said. Because of the ecological impact, China has restricted bottom sand extraction in 2000. India experienced severe flooding because of the rapid bottom sand extraction, and there are some signs that the world’s abilities to increase production of this raw material are close to its limits, the Russian Gazette warned.

At the same time, Russia has vast capacities in the production of bottom sand and soil. The country accounts for 3 million rivers with a total length of 6.5 million km, which is more than that of any other country in the world, plus it has the world’s longest coastline, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation estimated.