These are the words of Olga Ayvassedo, a teacher from the Khalyasavey settlement in the Purovsky district of Western Siberia. Her unsettling plea exposes the truth behind the increasing interest of oil companies in the Arctic which, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, is estimated to contain vast amounts of the world’s undiscovered oil and natural gas resources.
As home to some of nature‘s most exquisite sights and species, the Artic harbours a large fraction of the world‘s indigenous population whose peoples depend almost entirely on their ecosystems. Noyabrsk, the biggest oil town in the Yamalo-Nenets Region, finds itself at the the heart of the West Siberian oil and gas complex’s activities. The Khanty, Nenets, Zyryanie, Selkups and Komi peoples all have their testimonies to share, which are often filled with hopes and beliefs in a better future only to be shattered by the unscrupulous reality of the oilman’s broken promises.
As Svetlana Ryabova, a teacher and chairman of the Yamal Association reveals: “They (oil companies) offer compensation to us, but they are incommensurable with the damage they cause to nature (...) They don’t respect us and our rights.“
Did you say landsharing, or landgrabbing?
Indigenous peoples of the Arctic, including the Nenets and Selkups, still depend on hunting, herding, fishing and gathering as a basis of their providing a living. A recent case study put together by Greenpeace Russia showcases how the oil industry is destroying the livelihoods of these fragile communities and challenging their ability to sustain themselves. “The people are very aware of what is happening,“ said Vladimir Vello, a deer-farmer from the outskirts of Gubkinsky. “An oil spill in the sea can ruin everything. Everything is interconnected. If a catastrophe happens here, it will come out somewhere in America or in Africa.“
And so these communities are forced to ‘share‘ their lands with the likes of Gazprom and other oil giants under circumstances which are a far cry from accommodating to their needs and their way of life.
Furthermore, scientists claim that the region‘s climatic conditions can impact not only the probability of oil spills, but the drastic consequences of such mishaps. Needless to say, the prospects of a thorough clean-up following a possible oil spill in the Arctic – owing to the extreme weather and high-tech recovery measures which need to be in place - are as likely as a brutal coup d'etat kicking off in Switzerland.
The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues states that indigenous peoples who are forced to migrate away from their traditional lands become more vulnerable to trafficking and smuggling and have limited opportunities to make informed choices. Associations such as Yamal work relentlessly to protect the rights of West Siberia’s indigenous peoples and help them deal not just with the concequences of regional oil exploration, but also with the impacts of climate change.
From Noyabrsk to Bodo, to Quito
The global chase for oil extends far beyond the glaciers of the Arctic, with native tribes and communities across the world feeling the heat from the drill.
A report published by Amnesty International exposes the far reaching impacts of oil exploration in the Niger Delta, where the oil industry has brought about impoverishment, conflict, and violations of the rights to health, food and water for thousands of people, not mentioning the disgraceful environmental damage caused by recurrent oil spills and continuing gas flaring.
On the other side of the globe, Amazon Watch showcases the alarming residual of Chevron’s activities in the Ecuadorian Amazon, where millions of gallons of crude were dumped into the rainforest leading to contamination of the ecosystem and causing outbreaks of illness, birth defects and cancer within local indigenous communities.
While some claim that resource development comes at a price, I believe that displacement, human rights abuses, landgrabs and environmental havoc are not mere side effects of industrial development and therefore should not be accepted as such.
Instead of calling on oil companies to dig in their own backyards – which they should, but probably won’t – we can demand an end to the unethical exploitation of natural resources and an increase in corporate accountability for the sake of social and environmental progress and sustainability.
As the price of oil and gas rises, so will interest in oil exploration in the many hidden corners of our planet. The Arctic is one of the last places on Earth where people still live in a uniquely close bond with nature - let’s make sure it’s not the last one.
Watch this video from the West Siberian oil fields and learn more about the true impact of oil exploration in the Arctic.