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Environmental problems of Northern Eurasia

Environmental Impact of Oil and Gas Development

<<< Reindeer Herding | Environmental Problems Index | Air Pollution >>>

Prospects for the Future

In recent years, scientists, environmentalists, and human rights activists have become increasingly concerned over the damage caused by the development of hydrocarbon resources to the northern environment and the related social problems. While exports of oil and gas provide extensive revenues to the country as a whole, a minor fraction of this wealth is returned to restore the damaged ecosystems and improve economic and social conditions of those peoples whose land contains these resources. Ambitious projects exist to develop new gas and oil complexes, including those offshore. Severe climate and engineering constraints imply a high risk of accidents and consequent damage to vulnerable northern ecosystems, which are difficult to rehabilitate even with the most advanced methods of recultivation. Environmental impact assessment has shown that the new developments can damage a further 2 million hectares of land in the Timan-Pechora region and 3 million hectares in the Tyumen oblast (Tishkov, 1997a).

Problems, faced by the main oil- and gas-producing regions in Russia, are by no means unique. Industrial development in North America, especially at the Prudhoe Bay oilfield in Alaska, can serve as a model of endeavour responsive to local environmental and social conditions (Chance and Andreeva, 1995). Although plans by the current US administration to develop oil and gas reserves in this region may jeopodize these achievements. However, the establishment of cooperative supervision of resources and the opportunity to use economic advantages stemming from the extraction of hydrocarbons have not been achieved easily by the native Alaskans. Strong legal grounds, active leadership of the native Alaskans themselves, the rise of the environmental movement in the United States, and the sympathetic attitude of national administration between the 1960s and 1990s were a very favourable combination of factors (Osherenko, 1995a).

In contrast, a weak economy, intimate links between national revenues and exports of oil and gas, contradictions in legislation, and its inconsistent implementation are the realities of contemporary Russia. It was certainly much easier to find a balance between the traditional occupations of the native Alaskans (hunting, trapping, and fishing) and industrial development than to accommodate both large-scale reindeer herding and oil and gas production on Yamal. Russian environmentalists had high expectations of the international community in terms of assistance in financing the refurbishing of the hydrocarbon industry and introduction of new environmentally friendly technologies. However, much of this assistance has not yet materialized. Furthermore, no foreign aid is sufficient to protect the environment from the large-scale damage inflicted by the wasteful use of resources. The current restructuring of the economy offers both opportunities and threats to the oil- and gas-producing regions of the Russian north and new political, legal, and economic arrangements are needed to internalize the environmental and social costs of development.

<<< Reindeer Herding | Environmental Problems Index | Air Pollution >>>



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