National Geographic : 2017 Oct
life on the edge 125 air around the flames, tundra, water, and sky melt into a mirage of browns, greens, and blues. The hum has become a powerful roar that drowns out most other sounds. And from this vantage point, the notion that the Nenets reindeer herders can coexist in a “ balanced” way with oil and gas development— an idea I heard consistently from Gazprom offi- cials, the regional government, NGOs, and the herders themselves—seems an illusion. A new gas processing facility, with its associated roads and pipelines, is scheduled to come on line at Bovanenkovo in the next couple of years. Two new railroad branches are being constructed to connect hubs at Bovanenkovo and Payuta in western Yamal with oil and gas terminals on the east coast. Those railway lines will cut across the migration routes of most of the Nenets herds. Even more troubling for Brigade 4, a new gas field called Kruzenshternskoye is projected to come on line in the early 2020s on the Kara Sea coast. It will encroach on exceptionally rich pastures. As I’m pondering all this, the roaring gas flare abruptly shuts off. The thermals dissipate around the pipe, and the landscape beyond settles back into its familiar shapes and colors. Around me, the next generation of Nenets herders are prac- ticing their lassoing skills on sleighs, dogs, and each other, while the next generation of Nenets mothers feed their dolls in makeshift toy chums. In the silence, the familiar sounds return—the low voices of the herders, the cries of the children and dogs, the clicks of the reindeer hooves. For a moment, everything seems all right again on the edge of the world. j Evgenia Arbugaeva photographed the Arctic resource boom for the March 2016 issue. Archipelago of Hope, Gleb Raygorodetsky’s book on indigenous peoples and climate change, will be published in November.