In total, the Arctic is home to more than 60 untapped natural gas fields with 43 locations falling inside Russian territory. Consequently, Russia has already set to dominate this area and its resources, building the Yamal LNG plant which cost over $27 billion to develop. New vessels valued at hundreds of millions of dollars each have also been developed specifically to travel the Arctic with greater ease. Once drilling and mining commence, this massive plant will be capable of transporting 18 million tons of natural gas out of the Arctic each year. In total, the Arctic represents 22% of all undiscovered oil and natural gas in the world.
While this represents significant value and power for Russia, its effect on the Nenet people could be devastating. With the reindeer population of the Arctic already threatened by rising temperatures, the industrialization of this land adds an even greater threat.
Previously we published an article detailing Russia’s strategy to dominate the untapped natural gas resources of the Arctic, where we briefly discussed its effect on the Nenet people of this land. Today, we are writing to further explain the struggles of the Nenets as their land becomes a haven for new drilling and mining projects in an effort to gain control over a majority of the world’s natural gas fields.
The Nenets, also known as Samoyed, are an ethnic group native to the northern Arctic lands of Russia. In 2010, it was estimated that 44,857 Nenets resided in this area, with the majority of the population speaking Tundra or Forest dialects of the Nenet language. This group has called the northern Arctic their home for thousands of years, and until more recently has been relatively undisturbed in their way of life.
The Nenets depend on the cold weather and vast space of the Arctic to facilitate their lifestyle, which revolves around the herding and hunting of reindeer. Reindeer herding became popular in the 18th century when explorers found significant use for the large animals for sled pulling and traveling great distances in the Arctic’s tough conditions. Naturally accustomed to the harsh weather of this area, reindeer were the ideal solution for European explorers looking for discoveries in the vast and unknown Arctic. However, they needed to be herded and made easily available for the use of traveling, which is an area where the Nenets thrived.
Like thousands of years ago, the Nenets of today remain experts in the herding and hunting of reindeers, but also rely on reindeer meat as one of their main food sources. To the Nenets this animal is essential. But throughout the 1900s, the population of reindeer has been consistently threatened, with one of the worst threats occurring as the Arctic increasingly becomes representative of a political power play that must be dominated by industrialization.
With the expansion of the gas and oil industry and the greed that accompanies it, the Arctic represents a valuable resource. Thanks to harsh weather conditions, the untapped natural gas fields of the Arctic were previously left alone. However, climate change and advanced technology have now made drilling and mining in this area possible.
The Nenets rely on large reindeer pastures for their livelihood. However, these pastures are becoming smaller and smaller, creating areas that have been overgrazed and are leading previously returning reindeer away. The environmental effects of the Arctic are also threatening the Nenets typical migration patterns. The Nenets migrate strategically in order to make the most of the area’s resources. Many of their migration patterns depend on areas that become frozen in the winter, making for safer traveling. However, climate change and the building of new structures, as well as increased traffic, have made many of these areas untravelable.
For the Nenets, decreased travel and diminishing reindeer populations means less food and economic resources, and can even slow medical attention when necessary. This is because cold temperatures and undisturbed land is also key to preserving the routes to medical facilities. In the event that medical attention is needed, the Nenets may wait until the next winter season in hopes that the route which must be travelled will be properly frozen.
The destruction of the Arctic land also goes against the Nenets strict beliefs, which revolve around the respect for the land and the resources it provides.
While Russia strategically plans each and every move for its domination of the Arctic’s resources carefully and without hesitation, it appears as though they have failed to consider the effects their actions will have on the Nenet people who have called this land home for thousands of years. As climate change, industrialization, and colonization continue to damage the environment of the Arctic, it is uncertain what will happen to the Nenets. We can only hope that the temptation of power and control over such a significant portion of the world’s natural gas resources will be outweighed by the care and respect of an important group of people and their livelihood in the northern Arctic.