The bare, atmospheric beauty of the Arctic is a stark juxtaposition to the messy and brutal work of coal mining and oil drilling — as this National Geographic video shows. But as “stunning” as this video is, it doesn’t provide much context on the places that were filmed. So here’s some backstory:
Oil Drilling in Arctic Russia: Unlike America, where Arctic drilling has been highly controversial, Russians have embraced oil exploration at the top of the world. Although it hasn’t been easy.
As one NY Times report on Arctic drilling puts it: “Winters are long and dark, and the Arctic seas, despite reductions in the permanent ice pack, are still clogged with floes and icebergs, while intensifying storms have threatened ships or oil rigs even during the summer…There are few roads or airports, or people for that matter, near the areas to be drilled, requiring workers and equipment to be shipped long distances…few resources are available for search and rescue or the cleanup of oil in icy conditions.”
Despite these challenges, oil fields such as Trebs and Titov have been pumping out the goods for the last few years. But, the development has not been without incident. In 2012 a blowout at a wellhead spilled oil over a 1,000 square-meter area in the Trebs and Titov tundra.
Bashneft, the mid-sized company that, along with Lukoil, operates in Trebs and Titov, expects to be operating up to 200 wells in the area by 2020. The company aims to produce 4.8 million tons of oil a year by 2018.
Coal Mining in Norway: It’s officially Norway and around 1,700 of Svalbard’s 2,700 residents are Norwegian. But Russia has a strong presence on the archipelago located about 700 kilometers north of mainland Europe, including a mining enclave of 500 Russian inhabitants.
This isn’t the first time the harsh reality of Barentsburg, one of the coal towns in Svalbard, has been captured on film. One film producer made life in Bartensburg as a coal miner the centerpiece of an award-winning film called “Dream Town,” which is part documentary, part fantasy.
But with coal mines closing around the world, it’s hard not to wonder if places like Svalbard will one day be abandoned. Recently Norway has begun to shutter some of its coal operations in Svalbard, including one of its key mines. The announcement late last year signaled that around 150 of the mine’s 250 staff will lose their jobs. The state-owned mine said it was operating at a loss. Norway has since stated its commitment to prevent future shut downs in Svalbard.