"Economic Development and the Environment"
on the Sakhalin Offshore Oil and Gas Fields II

Copyright (C) 1999 by Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University.
All rights reserved

The Environmental Effects of Development
in the Angaro-Yenisei Region

Hiromitsu Kitagawa

Development and Environment
Industrial development and environmentally hazardous large-scale extraction of natural resources by colonists were confined to areas adjoining the Trans-Siberian Railway, at least until the 1930s. Intensive forestry in the lower Yenisei area, nickel mining at Noril'sk and gold mining in Iakutiia were typical examples of large industrial projects from 1930, which naturally caused severe environmental damage. In the mid-1950s, other large projects started in the far north, with timber operations expanding over enormous areas. Large amounts of timber were left to rot. The indigenous peoples lost vast hunting grounds. Data collected by Vakhtin indicated that 30% of the forests were cut in the Russian Far East, 21% in Magadanskaia Oblast, 39% in Primorskii, 34% in Khabarovskii, 9% in Sakhalin and 42% in Amurskaia.
The hydrocarbon development boom started in the mid-1960s. Again forests were cut down around Surgut and Samotlor in the Khanty-Mansiyskii Autonomous Okrug, where the largest oil deposits were located, polluting rivers and bogs, devastating the land for the indigenous peoples. Aipin[7] criticized the environmental exploitation wrought by industrial development and lamented the abuse of the indigenous population, the pillage and destruction of cultural sites, the decimation of the reindeer population and other shameful actions and behavior. The exploitation of energy resources caused an enormous loss of land and water resources. Similar to the Alaskan pipeline, railways and pipelines cut off reindeer migration routes, which had a significant impact on the natives. The wild reindeer population has been increasing in recent decades, but the hunting trade is still vulnerable to any kind of environmental disruption. Winter shipping on rivers, especially, causes shifting migration routes. The shortage of transportation facilities in the region makes solving this problem difficult. There is no legal protection for most pasture-lands, although the government has expressed its intention to support land use by indigenous peoples. (Dallman, 1997).
The government has tried resettling indigenous peoples as compensation, attempting to provide a "civilized" mode of living with heated houses and electricity. Such measures have had certain benefits in industrialization, but they have accelerated the decline of indigenous cultures.
Mining activities have created severe pollution problems in the vicinity of mines and smelting works. Nickel plants on the Kola Peninsula and the Noril'sk industrial area in the lower Yenisei valley are the most typical examples. Mining business brings a lot of problems in Northern Iakutiia. Pollution and the littering of beaches and river deltas in bio-resource zones is reported to have affected Iakutiia's wildlife population.
Pollution problems caused by mining activities as well as other industries are aggravated by Russia's present economic and political conditions.
Radioactive contamination has also had a significant impact on the environment. Large areas have suffered radioactive pollution, affected by atomic bomb testing in Novaia Zemlia.
In this region, nuclear explosions were often used for civilian purposes, such as mining, seismic sounding, and controlling river flows. Despite its distance far from the testing area, some of the worst contamination was reported in Chukotka. Background radiation levels in 1990 were still the same as in the controlled zone around Chernobyl (Lupandin & Gaer, 1990).
Marine Pollution and Marine Mammals (Belikov, et al., 1998)
Russia unfortunately lacks precise, updated information on the distribution, abundance, migration, breeding and feeding areas of major marine mammals in the polar region. These mammals include the polar bear, walrus, bearded seal, ringed seal, white whale, gray whale and bowhead whale, all of which are deeply associated with the indigenous peoples' daily lives. It is well- known that estuaries of large rivers in Russia are more or less contaminated, but the negative effects of pollution on certain marine mammals have not been clarified. Contamination of sea-water by oil and waste has been reported in large sea ports such as Amderma, Dickson, Tiksi and Cape Shmidt. The white whale, for instance, appears near these ports every year and risks suffering from the pollution's toxic effects.
The real danger for marine mammals, in particular gray whales, is found in pollutants such as heavy metals, DDT and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). As Stirling-Calvert (1983) pointed out, increasing levels of pollution are inevitable due to the long-lasting nature of many of these compounds. They continue to move through the ecosystem's food chain in ever-increasing concentrations. Samples of plankton and benthos show high levels of chlororganic pollutants. It is widely recognized that the accumulation of toxic materials in the tissues of marine mammals greatly reduces the reproductive rate, increases the rate of miscarriages, birth deformities and stillbirths in mammals (Delong, et al. 1973).
Industrial waste, for the moment, is the main source of pollution. The development of shore infrastructure, coastal settlements and ports and harbors in the future will cause an increase in pollutants. An increase in the frequency of shipping traffic will have negative effects on migrating gray whales or other marine mammals. During migration, gray whales are sensitive to noise from ships. Ship noise forces whales to leave their feeding sites.
Every pollution-caused issue has various negative effects on the indigenous peoples who have long relied on marine products. They essentially have no legal protection for recourse.
Civilization or Industrialization
Due to budget shortfalls and the general economic crisis, Russia's infrastructure in society and industry has become old and inadequate, discouraging foreign capital investment to a large extent. For the growth of the entire country and/or local, individual regions, regional economic zones created in each district may be effective. Benefit principles on the use of infrastructure should be introduced as much as possible. Local governments should be authorized to take over many of the functions that belonged to the central government under the old system. Simultaneously, a clarification of the demarcation between the central and local governments in development policies including financial burden sharing should be required. The initiative in planning local development should pass to the local government. Regional development plans, in harmony with each region's particular natural, ecological and population conditions should be formulated and executed with the cooperation of local governments in the area.