Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG 2: Gas Extraction in the Russian Arctic
Location:Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia
Project risks:Environmental Destruction, Social Harm
Fossil gas companies are invading one of the most sensitive ecosystems on the planet: the Arctic wilderness. On the Yamal peninsula in Western Siberia, the gas companies Novatek and Total are operating an LNG (liquefied natural gas) megaproject. For thousands of years, the indigenous Nenets people have been living in harmony with nature on the Yamal peninsula. The Yamal LNG megaproject is threatening the very foundations of the Nenets’ way of life. Despite the harm the gas companies have already done, their next LNG project is underway on the opposite side of the peninsula on the Gyda peninsula: Arctic LNG 2.
The Yamal and Gyda peninsulas are a vast wilderness covered with shrubs, mosses, lakes, and grasslands. This expanse of Western Siberia is home to Arctic foxes, lemmings, and reindeer. Over 50 species of nesting birds come each year to raise their young. In the winter, temperatures can go down to -57°C. It is a place where most humans would find it difficult to survive.
The Nenets people’s way of life is closely interwoven with this Arctic wilderness. They are nomadic reindeer herders who live from what the Artic tundra gives them. As the seasons change, the Nenets walk ancient migration routes across the Yamal peninsula for hundreds of kilometers to bring the reindeer to their pastures.
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Climate warming is rapidly changing the Arctic. Winters are getting milder and the summers hotter. During the winter of 2020, freezing rainfall formed an unbreakable layer of ice on top of the snow. The reindeer had no chance to feed on the lichen in the snow underneath the ice sheet. In that winter, 80,000 reindeer starved to death. As a consequence, hundreds of Nenets families lost their livelihoods.
The Russian Arctic is among the most rapidly heating regions on Earth. In some places, the permafrost that lies beneath the tundra is thawing so quickly that the landscape has begun to collapse. Like bomb craters, huge sinkholes have opened up, sometimes more than 80 meters wide. No one knows when and where the ground will rupture next. This uncertainty makes migration through this unstable area very risky. It forces the Nenets and their reindeer to look for safer routes and passages on the Yamal peninsula.
Deep beneath the Arctic tundra, the Yamal peninsula holds the largest gas reserves of the planet. Since the arrival of the gas companies, the Arctic environment has been shrinking rapidly. The gas companies have built service roads, pumping stations, pipelines, open waste pits and hundreds of wells that are now crisscrossing the tundra. The pipelines, waste pits and gas wells block the Nenets’ way to the pastures. This forces the Nenets and their reindeer to walk much longer routes through this gigantic industrial maze. They cannot use the roads because they destroy their sleighs. To cross, the Nenets must lay out large textile sheets or pile up sand on the roads to protect the sleighs.
Never before has the Russian Arctic experienced such dramatic changes to the environment and ecology. The Gulf of Ob used to be a shallow sea channel before the gas companies arrived. To deepen the route to the port, construction companies have dug up the Gulf of Ob. With heavy machinery, they have dug out more than 70 million tons of sand to ensure that the LNG mega tankers reach the Yamal LNG terminal. As a result of the heavy construction activity, seismic disturbance and disruption to their feeding ecosystem, almost all the fish have disappeared from the Gulf. The Nenets and local fishermen worry that the fish will never return.
Although they are aware of what they are destroying, Novatek, Total, and their Chinese and Japanese partners are starting to build Arctic LNG 2 on the Gyda peninsula on the other side of the Gulf. Arctic LNG 2 would be Novatek’s second LNG terminal in the Arctic. The companies want to start operations by 2023. The companies Siemens and Saipem from Germany and Italy are due to build Arctic LNG 2 with help from the Turkish company Renaissance and the American company General Electric.
For Arctic LNG 2, heavy machinery is digging up another 80 million tons of sand from the Gulf of Ob. As they remove the seabed, they change the water currents that used to flush nutrients and food particles into the Gulf. The machines are stirring up large amounts of mud that suffocate fish larvae and algae. This is bringing marine ecosystems close to extinction. Arctic fish species such as the sturgeon, whitefish, smelt and freshwater cod may never recover.
Novatek does not stop there. The Russian gas giant is toying with the idea to build another fossil gas facility close to Yamal LNG: Ob GCC (Ob Gas Chemical Complex). At Ob GCC, Novatek would produce fossil hydrogen from gas it is extracting within a protected nature area. German energy company RWE wants to buy this fossil hydrogen from the Arctic.
The gas companies are wrecking the Arctic wilderness and along with it, the livelihoods of the Nenets. This ongoing environmental destruction is forcing nomadic Nenets families to settle in villages like Seyakha. There, they often live difficult lives. Many struggle to find work and are dependent on the state for subsistence. Nenets herder Sergei Hudi is one of those who feels the effects of the ongoing gas expansion in the Russian Arctic: "We are afraid that with all these new industries, we will not be able to migrate anymore. And if we cannot migrate anymore, our people may just disappear altogether."
Groups working on Yamal and Arctic LNG2: Yamal to its descendants, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), United Yamal, Greenpeace Russia, WWF Russia