English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World Living Arctic) No. 9-10, 2002

The choice is there

Zinaida Kalte, a participant at the Coordination Council session

It has become a good tradition to convene the Coordination Council of RAIPON somewhere outside, in regions inhabited by indigenous peoples. The Coordination Council held in Naryan-Mar on October 14-18, 2001 was of great significance to me. The impressions of this Coordination Council made me think hard about lots of things. Despite the fact that a good deal of time has passed since then the volume of information and impressions acquired during my trip often makes me go back to my thoughts, ideas and questions that took shape six months ago.

Firstly, the arrangement of the event making it possible to meet with representatives of the authorities and influential international organizations was quite impressive. Secondly, the profound impressions made by the tour of the Ardalinsky oil-producing complex and the possibility to hear right on site the opinions of both parties - the extracting company and indigenous peoples who had found themselves in the company’s operational zone gave a lot of food for thought.

One can imagine the enormous preparatory efforts carried out by the staff of the Association to organize the CC session jointly with representatives of legislative and executive power of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Naturally, the CC was equally open for the members of local public associations representing the indigenous people inhabiting the Nenets’ land. The chosen strategy and the well thought-out tactics of actions, taken by the Association’s representatives in Naryan-Mar long before the arrival of the Council members, brought about positive results. Thus, on September 28, 2001 the Assembly of Deputies of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug adopted the law on “Additional Guarantees of Voting Rights of the Nenets People to Be Elected to the Legislative (Representative) Body of State Power of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug” signed by V.YA. Butov, Head of Administration on October 9, 2001 (five days before the CC began its working session). It goes without saying that active and competent actions taken by the Yasavey Association and personally Deputy A.I. Vyucheyskiy had paved the way for adoption and signing of this important document.

It is quite possible that the arrival of the CC members would not have become such a great event for Naryan-Mar if it had not been for the use of ‘heavy artillery’ at their sessions, i.e. participation of representatives of the Athapaskan Arctic Council, the World Bank (WB) and O.O. Mironov, Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation.

The spectrum of questions discussed at the CC sessions was wide indeed. But I would lik to dwell on some of them only.

I was particularly interested in the WB mission. It was clear from the materials prepared for the CC by Rodion Sulyandziga that two rounds of consultations had been conducted - in Khabarovsk (October 1-3, 2001) and in Moscow (October 11, 2001) with participation of federal bodies of power: the State Duma, Ministry of the Federation, as well as associations, various non-governmental organizations and scientists – before the third round of consultations started in Naryan-Mar. The Coordination Council members discussed the currently effective document “Operational Policy” of the World Bank with regard to indigenous peoples at the beginning of the 21st century. Stanley Pibody, responsible for Eastern Europe and RF and Navin K. Rai, Coordinator of the Program for Indigenous Peoples Issues provided general information about WB activities, identifying the struggle with poverty and economic development as the bank’s most important objectives. Destitution in case of indigenous peoples means the lack of rights, namely the rights to self-determination, rights to land and natural resources. At present, over 20 percent of WB funds and projects have been oriented at social programs. The World Bank is pursuing a special policy with regard to indigenous peoples for it believes that indigenous peoples belong to one of the most vulnerable groups in the world. This activity has been in the center of attention of the world community and the United Nations. The WB policy has a defensive character for people and environment. It is important for the World Bank to preserve its reputation as a true world bank. Therefore, it has been holding consultations and discussions about its projects in Russia gathering responses and recommendations concerning its policy making with regard to indigenous peoples.

The willingness to obtain firsthand information about the actual situation of indigenous peoples apparently determined them to join the CC members going to the unique Ardalin oil-producing complex of 5,500 tons of daily capacity, owned by the Russo-American “Polar Lights Company” (PLC) engaged in oil prospecting and development for the last nine years. The development of the Ardalin project was mainly funded by international banks. Randy S. Whitt, the Company’s Director-General said in his brief report at the meeting with representatives of industrial enterprises that they had demonstrated the methods of oil prospecting without crude interference in the environment being subsequently granted two Lomonosov Awards and one given by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. How come they managed to avoid an incorrigible damage to the tundra soil mantle and preserve traditional reindeer pastures in the grazing crop rotation? “So, your technology is all airborne and the entire enterprise complex is hovering above the earth, aren’t they?” – I asked and received an invitation to visit this miracle of the 21st century.

It took us about 50 minutes to fly by helicopter from Naryan-Mar over the tundra, already white with snow, the rivers and lakes taken prisoner by ice and the blizzard stirred up by ground wind. Oilrigs showed black here and there and nothing else around … Too sad. Soon we were on the spot going through a special checkpoint. The check is made on all the incoming people, visitors and oilmen alike. It is forbidden to bring in firearms, spirits and narcotics. Next, we were given instructions in safety technique carried out on the highest possible level – the slightest fault, any negligible infringement of safety rules would be noticed without fail. We were given convenient helmets and protective glasses to wear as an obligatory precaution at the enterprise complex managed as a compact entity with a network of railways and pipelines 65 kilometers long mounted on vertical legs 1.5 to 2 meters high - enough, in the opinion of the oil deposit explorers, for reindeer herds to migrate without hindrance all across the territory of the oil field. Besides, as we were told, there were four reindeer passages built as earth banks to cross the oil pipeline on the advice of indigenous population. Man–nature interface at the Ardalin group of oilfields has been strictly regularized. Driving any vehicle across the summertime tundra, bringing in any fishing tackle, firearms, and domestic animals, fishing and hunting are explicitly outlawed. Poaching, therefore, is ruled out completely there. It gladdened our hearts. Similarly, it made us happy that we did not see the usual hacked up tundra flooded with spilled oil, nor did we see a landscape disfigured by ugly iron. We did not even smell any oil because the whole production process – from a borehole to the end product – was set up in such a way that not a drop of oil was spilled. This is the best indicator of the high level of culture in oil industry the world over.

A non-stop environmental monitoring, temperature and hydro-geological observations, sampling have been underway all along, accumulating and analyzing data about the quality of air, depth and soil water, tundra and permafrost soils, flora and fauna in the area of the oil field and the extracting enterprise with the help of instruments of high precision. This unique program of monitoring with no analogs as far as its volume and detailed elaboration are concerned is forming a new ideology of industrial ecology. The Company believes that it has succeeded to minimize the inevitable damage to nature applying modern technologies and well-defined labor organization. The absence of industrial consumers of natural gas produced in the process of preparing crude oil for the transfer pipe made it expedient to sort out the problem of utilizing oil gas right on site as fuel for turbo-generators to supply the oil field with electricity, warm up and increase fluidity of oil prior to pumping it into the pipeline. The remaining gas is burned in the specially constructed torch. Intensive air supply of 48 gas burners ensures full burning of gas and makes the whole process smokeless. This method differs in principle from traditional oilfield open-type torches called ‘fox tails’. The improved gas burners and the burning area are covered with a special metal casing to make the flame invisible and unattractive to flocks of birds of passage during their fall migration. The platform of the torch is set up on a pile footing of more than 10 meters high, thus having no bearing on the frozen tundra soils or the flora around.

And the rest is in a nutshell. There are special protective measures from oil spills: an earth bank, piles, a bath, a tank. A special ground is allotted to bury and utilize the abandonment of oil: drilling cuttings, ash from burnt refuse. In summertime, technical recultivation and grass seeding are regularly carried out. It is worthwhile reminding that the Company’s requirement for drilling a hole is not less than four square meters against the Russian standard of 500 square meters.

The Ardalin group of oilfields is an autonomous complex with its own energy sources, office space, a living module for one hundred workers, laundry, sauna, satellite television and excellent communication with the rest of the world. One feels as if he is in a spaceship – everything is so well thought-off and suited to one’s needs. The cult of neatness is unshakeable all around. It is a pity that food is shipped from as far as Peru by a Peruvian catering company (our food products do not correspond to the world standards). I am grateful to my hospitable hosts for the wonderful excursion, information they shared with us, for the fantastic dinner and souvenirs.

Now I have an idea how a truly civilized oil exploration should look like. Cognition comes through comparison. One of the representatives of the industrial enterprises said that oil was our planetary property meant for all mankind. It used to be produced and will be produced for it should give everyone a chance to be wealthy. Well, then, since the industrial development of rich oil deposits in the traditional subsistence territories of indigenous peoples goes on anyway, let it happen at least the way the Polar Lights Company does deploying state-of-the-art methods and technologies being aware of its responsibility for the present and future of our children.

The next stopover on our helicopter journey was at the village of Khorey-Ver of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug. It took 20 minutes of our flight time to get there from the Ardalin oilfields. There are 900 inhabitants in the village accommodated in one-storied wooden houses and eleven reindeer breeding teams. The meeting with local people took place at the village club. S.N. Kharyuchi opened the meeting giving a brief account of the Association and objectives of our visit. O.O. Mironov was the next one to speak about his work and the possibility available to the villagers to defend their own rights. Dr. L.I. Abryutina took the floor as usual having visited a kindergarten, a school, a hospital and a store beforehand. Larisa Ivanovna drew a sad picture of what she had seen. “What’s the use of talking when the local hospital has less drugs than a regular town dweller keeps in his medicine chest at home!’ Larisa exclaimed in outrage. The Khorey-Verans were grateful to her for such a prompt assessment of the local situation acknowledging her words with applause.

Representatives of the World Bank spoke next followed by the Director-General of the Polar Lights Company. The first and the latter informed the gathering of their activities. Randy S. Whitt’s report made a special emphasis on the fact that almost 50 percent of the Okrug’s budget was made of the Company’s payments and that 17 million rubles was directed to Khorey-Ver this year. It caused quite a commotion! The people were shouting, excited and angry. The World Bank representatives got a chance to hear about the actual way the things were with indigenous people straight ‘from the horse’s mouth’:

- Pasture area reduction due to allocation of lands;

- Oil companies refuse to come into contact with us;

- Oil wells are left abandoned, reindeer get sick;

- Assistance given only once does not alter our situation;

- The total reindeer herd has reduced by half;

- If no measures are taken to enhance reindeer breeding it will die and we’ll follow suit;

- There are no benefits for us from the payments mentioned by the Company;

- Contracts are signed but we, the masters of our land, see nothing;

- We are not adjusted to the new life, please help us;

- Please do something so that our local savings bank is not closed;

- We hear our deputies on the radio only.

That’s the way it is! The image of both the World Bank and the Company was threatened. The challenge had to be accepted. “We are ready to set up a social development fund and supervise its activities. Payments will be made by all the oil enterprises operating in the area. We shall encourage projects oriented at indigenous people. However, your efforts will be essential just as well. You should be more active. We are in no position to dictate what is to be done, nor can we control the expenses of the area administration,” Randy S. Whitt pointed out.

The speech made by the Company’s head in return formulated clearly concrete business proposals making it possible to start a dialog.

But the real question is whether the villagers themselves are ready for such an exchange. What kind of projects can they offer for discussion? What social programs are they ready to stand out for? And, after all, who will be working them out? Do they know the laws defending their rights? Are they able to make use of them? It’s high time to understand that some kind uncle with a sack and a magic wand would never come to help them out. One should want to learn – to learn how to become real masters of their own land. A helping hand will be readily outstretched by the all-Russia Association constantly organizing workshops and training courses. The Association ‘Yasavey’ will be also helpful. Vladislav Peskov is facing a lot of work to be done in his native area. Let’s wish him good luck! Especially bearing in mind that “any company is vitally interested in social peace and national consensus” (from a report made at the meeting with industrialists).

In conclusion, please have a look at the picture below[1] showing a reindeer herd light-heartedly nibbling on the grass with an oil producing enterprise in the background. What would be the best inscription on this photograph? Say, “Cohabitation with pipes” or “A complex in the tundra – well done!” or “Is there a choice anyway?”

And what do you think?

[1] see original article in “Mir korennykh narodov”