The ArcticMainpage
Click to view
Construction of a gas pipeline in the Yamal peninsula in northern Siberia
by Piers Vitebsky

Gas feeder lines at the Yamburg gas-condensate field.
To the north of the main Siberian oil fields, huge reserves of natural gas have been found in the Yamal peninsula. This low-lying, marshy coastal area is rich in birds and fish and is also the home of the Nenets, who herd their reindeer there. For the winter, the Nenets drive their deer southwards from the tundra to the shelter of the forests, away from the biting winds of the tundra. For the spring, they bring them back towards the calving grounds in the centre of the peninsula and for the summer, to the northern coast where the sea breeze helps to protect them from mosquitoes. The gas fields themselves lie under some of these pastures, which would be destroyed by extracting the gas. In addition, the proposed pipeline and its supporting railway would cut across the reindeers' migration routes. Even without the damage to the soil, their construction alone would make it impossible for reindeer to move along the peninsula for at least ten years.

View from a well pad (sand) towards a gas processing plant at the Yamburg gas-condensate field.
The reindeer herders who have no other means of working and living, have already suffered a great deal of anxiety. But they were comparatively fortunate that their problem arose just as environmentalist pressure groups were becoming influential in the Soviet Union. There was an outcry by conservationists, anthropologists and others, and their heated debates with officials from the oil and gas ministries were published in the national press. In 1989, the pipeline was shelved for several years, though the problem will probably reappear. Throughout Siberia, local councils are now trying to insist that no industrial development should take place on their land without their permission. They also feel that a fair share of the profits should come back to the area, rather than being kept in Moscow. They point out that much of the country's wealth is being created on their territory while the local people continue to live in great poverty. Similar demands are being made in other countries of the North.
Construction of a gas pipeline in the Yamal peninsula in northern Siberia,
by Piers Vitebsky.
Copyright Stefansson Arctic Institute and individual authors ©2000
Developed in partnership with the EU Raphael Programme