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Anthropological research on impacts of oil and gas extraction on nomads: ENSINOR

Anthropological research on impacts of oil and gas extraction on nomads: ENSINOR

2004-2007

Environmental and Social Impacts of Industrial Development in Northern Russia, funded by the Finnish Academy, is an interdisciplinary research project with a strong anthropological and geographical focus in Northwest Russia and West Siberia. In these two regions the focus lies on both the positive and negative impacts of industrialisation on reindeer nomads. While negative impacts are connected to the pollution of the environment and the disturbance caused by a large transient labour force, positive impacts include access to health care, extensive support for urban-based populations, jobs, and the possibility to barter or pay cash for goods on the tundra during migrations. Helicopter transport and relations between oil and gas workers and reindeer herders have become central aspects of life on the tundra.

Considering the positive and negative impacts of industrialisation, an important general result the anthropological in depth-fieldwork is that hardly any inhabitant of the tundra in both regions questions the necessity or usefulness of oil and gas extraction from their areas. Therefore reindeer herders' criticisms of industrial development are mostly of a constructive nature. Recommendations encompass a multiplicity of aspects ranging from technical solutions, such as the way to build pass-ways for nomads and herds over roads and pipelines, to requests for changes in the behaviour of industrial workers, e.g. restriction of fishing and hunting activities.

Another focus of the anthropological research in the project has been the relations between reindeer herders and industrial workers on the ground, in the tundra or at the drilling rig. Personal continuity between particular herders and industrial workers can be helpful in solving problems of immediate nature. Such an experience from practice has also a good potential to be incorporated in more general guidelines on negative impact minimisation of industrial activities in the North. Research carried out with local administrators and officials of companies shows that this kind of practical suggestion by local land users could be given much more consideration.

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Oil worker as guest in reindeer nomads' camp. Good working relations on the ground indicate the capacity for coexistence of two different forms of land use: mineral resource extraction and nomadic reindeer herding.

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The northernmost 'McDonald's' of the world, 500 km north of the Arctic Circle in the cantine of Bovanenkovo gas village. Photo by Bruce Forbes, 2005.

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Nomadic migration of reindeer herders through a gas deposit