Gas development in Yamal Peninsula could disrupt indigenous way of life

Nenets Reindeer Herders
Nenets Reindeer Herders. © Karen Mulders

Reuters put out an interesting story today on how development of the natural gas fields on the Yamal Peninsula could disrupt the indigenous Nenets tribe living there. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the conference held by the Russian government for foreign investors interested in developing these very resources. Gazprom is seeking to turn a profit from the Bovanenkovskoye deposit of gas within the next couple of years. However, developing this natural resource will not be a boon for everyone.

Reindeer herder Andrei Yezgini observed,

“For them it is fortune, for us terror.”

There are about 41,000 Nenets people, most of them living in Yamal. About 10,000 Nenets people migrate with their 300,000 reindeer anywhere from 500 to 1000 kilometers from north to south across the tundra every year. Along with the Sami, they are some of the last migratory reindeer herders in the world. The Nenets are a Samoyedic people, and their minority status has caused them to suffer much discrimination throughout the age of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and even still to this day.

According to the Reuters article, even though gas drilling has not yet begun, the effects of the industrialization of the area are already being felt, as the gas pipeline is breaking reindeers’ legs.

Gazprom’s website has a section on “Social Responsibility,” where they claim that

“One of the underlying principles of the commercial development of Yamal is maintaining a reasonable balance between the industrial development and a solicitous attitude towards the traditional lifestyle of the indigenous minorities.”

In fact, the website goes so far as to state that one of the primary goals is

“Reclamation of lands disturbed during oil and gas exploration in the 1980s so as to increase forage acreage for reindeer herding.”

In addition, Moscow has offered the Nenets people small amounts of monetary indemnities and housing in the capital of Yamal, Salekhard, as compensation. However, this means nothing to a people who could lose their entire way of life. There really is no question of whether the gas fields of Yamal will be developed, either: as the Gazprom website concludes in bold typeface, “There is no alternative to Yamal!”

Other links

The Nenets Tribe, BBC

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