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Salekhard - Arctic capital of Russia becoming the bridge between Europe and Asia

10 March 2014

A renaissance of one of Siberia's first outposts as the Far North becomes the new economic frontier.

Russia's most important infrastructure project since the TransSiberian railway. Picture: Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region press service

Lately attention has been on Sochi for the Winter Olympics and Paralympics but Salekhard, 3,032 km to the north, may turn out to be, strategically, of far more significance in the years to come. The exploitation of the Arctic for oil and gas, the energy wealth in Yamal, the opening up of the Northern Sea Route, the concern for the environment in polar regions - all these factors point to a renaissance for this city  which, uniquely in the world, straddles the Arctic Circle. 

The changes are already phenomenal, as President Vladimir Putin noted on a visit here in September 2013 to open the Third International Arctic Forum, where the presidents of Finland and Iceand were present. From being a pioneer in Russia's early development of Siberia, the capital of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, is now at the centre of a rapid economic and ecological revolution in the 21st century. 

And evidently doing well in this regard: last year a poll found it to be the place in Russia where people are happiest. With an average monthly salary of Salekhard reaching $1,450, almost double the Russian mean, the Arctic capital shows that it can provide a sustainable living for its citizens.

'The town was founded in 1595 by Russian Cossacks. It was originally called Obdorsk, then became Salekhard and played a crucial supporting role in developing the Russian Arctic, northern Urals and Western Siberia,' said Putin. 

'Over recent years, over the last decade, the town has not simply developed rapidly but has undergone a total transformation and is quite another city today. If you came here ten years ago and then saw it now, you wouldn't recognise it and would think these were two completely different places.

'Salekhard continues to play a big part in modern Russia's life today'. 

Salekhard - Arctic capital of Russia becoming the bridge between Europe and Asia


Salekhard - Arctic capital of Russia becoming the bridge between Europe and Asia


Salekhard - Arctic capital of Russia becoming the bridge between Europe and Asia Salekhard - Arctic capital of Russia becoming the bridge between Europe and Asia

'Yamal is a pioneer in the industrial development of the Arctic latitudes; some solutions that do not have analogues anywhere in the world were brought to life, and in the next decade more major investment global projects will be implemente here'. Pictures: Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region press service

The locals still remember the time when the first five storey building was erected in Salekhard at the end of the 1990s. Cab drivers proudly give visitors a ride past this famous site, reminiscing about the times when the brick buildings in the city could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Wooden barracks and several stores - that was the portrait of Salekhard back in 1999.

Ten years of rapid development has recently given Salekhard a 35% increase in population; every professional working in gas and oil here brings on average three people employed in the 'social sphere'. A significant population growth is not entirely due to immigration. Salekhard has a high birth rate - one of the highest in Russia with 15 babies for every 1,000 citizens.

The governor of the Yamalo-Nenets region Dmitry Kobylkin stresses that the capital of the region will play an important role in the history of Arctic Russia in the nearest future, so the pace of development will only grow. 

'Our task', he said during the recent meeting with the Salekhard MPs,  'is to achieve results that will raise the level of the quality of life for each person in Salekhard. It is necessary to accelerate the pace of housing construction, to solve the existing living problems. However we should not forget about quality leisure time. Yamal should be an exemplary Arctic region'.

The locals say that when returning from summer holidays they always find something new in the city, even though construction is much more difficult in permafrost.

Putin sees modern Salekhard, 2400 km northeast of Moscow, as firmly at the apex of developments which can be seen as historic.

'Russia is carrying out intensive work in the Arctic regions to explore and develop new oil and gas fields and minerals deposits,' he said. 'We are building big transport and energy facilities and reviving the Northern Sea Route. A new chapter in the Arctic's history has opened now, what we could call an era of industrial breakthrough, a time of rapid economic and infrastructure development'.

Salekhard - Arctic capital of Russia becoming the bridge between Europe and Asia


Salekhard - Arctic capital of Russia becoming the bridge between Europe and Asia


Salekhard - Arctic capital of Russia becoming the bridge between Europe and Asia Salekhard - Arctic capital of Russia becoming the bridge between Europe and Asia

'Here are the largest industrial enterprises. It is specially for the Arctic that the latest Russian and foreign breakthrough technologies are developed and applied. In this way Arctics is becoming the locomotive, which 'pulls' the scientific and modernisation processes in Russia'. Pictures: Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region press service

Cargo transit on the route is currently running at 1.176 million tonnes and includes iron ore concentrate and gas condensate, and the variety of cargo last year reached record levels with naphtha and gas oil carried for the first time. 

These tonnage is expected to increase significantly in the coming years as new transit and supply port facilities are constructed, offering a viable new route from Europe to Asia, allowing vessels to travel east from the Barents Sea along the Russian coast, through the Bering Strait and then down to the Pacific Ocean, thanks to climate change. It will become a major international trade artery, with Salekhard the unofficial administrative centre of this new frontier.

'Work in the harsh Arctic environment is very difficult and requires a lot of financial investment and genuinely unique technological solutions. It is clear to us that nature conservation and maintaining a balance between economic activity, human presence, and preserving the natural environment must be key priorities and principles in our work to develop the Arctic. This is all the more important given that the Arctic, with its fragile and vulnerable ecosystems and sensitive climate has such an impact on the entire planet's environmental state of health'. 

Salekhard - Arctic capital of Russia becoming the bridge between Europe and Asia


Salekhard - Arctic capital of Russia becoming the bridge between Europe and Asia


Salekhard - Arctic capital of Russia becoming the bridge between Europe and Asia

'It is clear to us that nature conservation and maintaining a balance between economic activity, human presence, and preserving the natural environment must be key priorities and principles in our work to develop the Arctic'. Pictures: Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region press service, Yamal Tour

There is much debate about the threat to the Arctic from the energy exploitation of this pristine area. Last year's Greenpeace protest, which made headlines around the world, concerned a Gazprom subsidiary's platform in the icy Pechora Sea. Prirazlomnaya was criticised as a bric-a-brac rig, made of second hand parts, some 30 years old. For Putin the trick is to combine economic development with rigorous safety, as he put it at the forum.

'Humanity through the ages has always used nature to survive, and the more time passed the more this was so. At first it was hunting and gathering, then it was using mineral resources, metals, fossil fuels. Can we stop this process? Of course we cannot stop it. This is not where the issue lies.

'The issue is how to make rational use of nature so as to minimise the damage we do to the environment or eliminate this damage altogether. Is this a realistic goal? Overall, it is probably a major challenge, but we nonetheless must work in this direction and I think that we can achieve our goal. Hydrocarbons are being produced all around the world, including at coastal and offshore sites'.

Salekhard - Arctic capital of Russia becoming the bridge between Europe and Asia


Salekhard - Arctic capital of Russia becoming the bridge between Europe and Asia


Salekhard - Arctic capital of Russia becoming the bridge between Europe and Asia

'In Yamal we accumulate all progressive, humane and effective methods of work in the Arctic'. Pictures:Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region press service,   Kate Baklitskaya, Go East 

Downsteream on the Ob River in Salekhard's hinterland is the new modern port of Sabetta seaport, being constructed to ship hydrocarbons from Yamal LNG developments. Nadezhda Noskova, press secretary of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region government, sees the city at the centre of an Arctic energy success story. 

'Yamal possesses a leading role in the process of strengthening and developing the Russian presence in Arctic region,' she said. 'Nowadays Yamal is the energy heart of Russia. Here are the largest gas and oil  fields which produce more than 10% of oil and about 93% of natural gas of the total production of Russian hydrocarbons. There are more than 50 large enterprises in the fuel and energy complex field engaged in production , processing and transportation of hydrocarbons , as well as geological exploration . 

'These are such Russian giants as Gazprom, Novatek, Rosneft, Lukoil and foreign companies like Total, Eni and others. Yamal is a pioneer in the industrial development of the Arctic latitudes. Over the past few decades some solutions that do not have analogues anywhere in the world were brought to life here and in the next decade more major investment global projects will be implemented in Yamal'.

Among these are integrated development of the deposits of Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District and Krasnoyarsk region; four major pipeline projects: Nord Stream , South Stream, the pipeline 'Bovanenkovo-Ukhta-Torzhok' which will go into Europe  and a recently designed gas trunk line 'Altai', designed to transport natural gas to China; construction of the Yamal LNG plant and a new seaport Sabetta , which is an important link in the development of the Northern Sea Route; construction of Arctic railway project 'Northern Latitudinal Railway, linked to the Sverdlovsk railway system in the Urals, is going fast; development of gas fields that are close to the Kara Sea - 32 hydrocarbon fields, 26 of which were opened on land, six in the waters of the Gulf of Ob and under the Kara Sea.

The implementation of these projects would not only allow a link to Europe and Asia through the Northern Sea Route as well as rail connections but also will become the most important Russian infrastructure project since the TransSiberian railway. A startling claim.

Salekhard - Arctic capital of Russia becoming the bridge between Europe and Asia


Salekhard - Arctic capital of Russia becoming the bridge between Europe and Asia

'We didn't come to the Arctic yesterday, and we have serious plans for the future'. Pictures: Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region press service

As Nadezhda Noskova said: 'Taking into account the active development in Yamal, we can talk about it being the Russian stronghold in the Arctic region.

'In recent years Yamal cemented its status as Russia's outpost in the Arctic. An International Meeting of High Representatives of Countries of the Arctic Council chaired by the Secretary of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushev was held in Salekhard in 2013. Its main outcome was the creation of the Russian Centre for Arctic Study in Salekhard supported by the Russian President'.

She also stressed the importance of the forum. 'Yamal is the leader in terms of industrial output in the Arctic zone. All regional major investment projects, namely Bovanenkovo gas field, port Sabetta, Yamal LNG plant, the Northern Latitudinal Railway and others are approved by the president and the government of the Russian Federation , and supported by the regional government. 

'In the upcoming years, Russia will take a significant place at the growing market of liquefied gas, largely due to the Yamal project. The gas stocks of Yamal Peninsula and Kara Sea shelf are huge. 

'An additional advantage in fast development of the region will be the construction of the Northern latitudinal railroad with access to the Northern Sea Route. Arctic infrastructure projects, which are implemented on the Yamal Peninsula now have no analogues in the world, and launch them will be a real breakthrough for Russia.

'During his last visit to Salekhard in September 2013, Vladimir Putin pointed out: 'Yamal is a place where the distance to Paris and to Beijing is the same. 

'On the map you can see that this is a very convenient point for the transportation of resources to the Asian-Pacific countries and to Europe and North America. The Arctic today is, without exaggeration, a national treasure and the key to the successful development of Russia', continues Nadezhda Noskova.

A renaissance of one of Siberia's first outposts as the Far North becomes the new economic frontier.


A renaissance of one of Siberia's first outposts as the Far North becomes the new economic frontier.

'Salekhard, founded in 1595 by Russian Cossacks, was originally called Obdorsk. Pictures: Yamal Tour,  Kate Baklitskaya, Go East 

'Here are the largest industrial enterprises. It is specially for the Arctic that the latest Russian and foreign breakthrough technologies are developed and applied. In this way Arctics is becoming the locomotive, which 'pulls' the scientific and modernisation processes in Russia.

'The northern regions are the place through which the major sea and air transportation routes and in the future - the highways - will go. There are dozens of different international expeditions, polar stations and meteorological centres that bring together leading Russian and foreign scientists. Due to these and many other equally important reasons the development of the Arctic as a whole is now given so much attention. Yamal possesses the first place among the state strategic priorities of Russia in the Arctic zone. We didn't come to the Arctic yesterday, and we have serious plans for the future. 

'As we have the most advanced technologies in the field of energy production and the unique construction technology as well as the cultural heritage preservation experience, experience of social policy, a comprehensive scientific study of the Arctic. In Yamal we accumulate all progressive, humane and effective methods of work in the Arctic.

'The whole world, including Russia and Yamal in particular increase it's presence in the Arctic with every year. And to assure progressive and steady development we believe that general knowledge, general rules of living and working in Arctics should be concentrated in one place. And why cant it be concentrated in Yamal?' 

A renaissance of one of Siberia's first outposts as the Far North becomes the new economic frontier.


A renaissance of one of Siberia's first outposts as the Far North becomes the new economic frontier.


A renaissance of one of Siberia's first outposts as the Far North becomes the new economic frontier. A renaissance of one of Siberia's first outposts as the Far North becomes the new economic frontier.

The locals say that when returning from summer holidays they always find something new in the city, even though construction is much more difficult in permafrost. Pictures: Kate Baklitskaya, Go East 

Evgeny Zabrodin Eugeny, deputy director of Sever-Press, said: 'Nowadays Yamal is the main region for the Russian presence in Arctic, with the main projects. In terms of infrastructure in the nearest future Yamal can become that hub for the growth of Russian presence in Arctics. The main gas deposits including the shelf deposits are in Yamal and the international port Sabetta, under construction now - these will make it possible for Yamal to become this base for Russia's development of the Arctic.

'As soon as the main infrastructure projects are implemented, we will see growth of the population of the region and also of its economic well-being. The most important part will be the stability in our presence in Arctics, as for now the region's task was mostly extracting and transporting the hydrocarbons. But soon will come the alternative way of transporting gas'. 

Aleksander Grigorievich Voronenko, deputy director of the Arctic Study Centre, said: 'Our gas and oil companies are moving further north, and for them a new infrastructure in the Arctic is being developed. One of such projects is Yamal LNG which includes building of the big international port Sabetta in the very north of Yamal region, and we hope that it will turn Russia into one of the leading countries in terms of Arctic development and study. 

'It is a global projects that Russia is implementing, and, I would say, our biggest Arctic project. The special tanker fleet will be filled with LNG or oil and the tankers will take the hydrocarbons to either Europe or Asia. The latest tendencies show that Asia needs our natural resources and is willing to buy them so our future partners can be China and India. Our interest in the Arctic lie also in ecology, for example White Island where during the Soviet times a lot of waste was accumulated garbage and the scrap-metal which needs to be cleaned'. 

Other signs that Salekhard is going through a boom is that last year at the 7th International Investment Forum PROEstate was held in Moscow it was picked out as having 'good potential' for retail growth. It is all a far cry from the region's role in both the Tsarist and Soviet periods as a place of exile and punishment. Notoriously, three camps were filled with thousands of prisoners arrested for their belief in God. 

Many were deployed polishing diamonds mined in Mirny, in Yakutia.

Comments (4)

About construction in permafrost, I would like to know if there are problems in parts of Siberia as a consequence of global warming melting the permafrost.
Enrique, Spain
31/03/2014 11:02
0
0
Pioneering , exploring ,conquering; rare words these days . To think young people still have the chance to imitate their great grandparents and seek their fortunes in such an isolated wilderness is a natural human curiosity that we are all borne .
Wow! my old bones rattle with excitement ,ooh if only , but it's for the young and the brave and good luck to them too .
Does remind you of Dr Livingstone in Africa , Settlers in their thousands going west to California , Americans heading north to Alaska seeking their fortunes in Nome.
We are witnessing great scenes of people movement again this time to the most northern artic regions on this planet,
Wishing them all the best and may they get what humans have always strived for---- a challenge ,a dare ,
a gamble to succeed .
These "New Yamalation Pioneers" are only fulfilling the maxim of every human- being, which answers the question WHY? ------------with ---------------- Why Not ?
Patrick .
Patrick Travers, Perth Australia
14/03/2014 03:07
3
1
That's the main point, Steven. Yamal is among the rare Russian regions that plans years ahead, the construction of the 'Northern Latitudinal Railway' and building a major russian Arctic port in Sabetta will help to change the region's priorities from extraction to infrastructure. Arctics is the one of the major transportation ways of the future so developing the good infrastructure there should be the major Russian priority, which is now implementing in Yamal.
Kate, Russia
13/03/2014 18:08
3
1
How will all this development fare when the world stops burning fossil fuels in a few years? What may develop to give Salekard a diverse and sustainable economy?

The American west is littered with the remains of towns that vanished or decayed when the natural resources they were built on played out, despite high expectations. I hope history does not repeat itself in Salekard
Steven McGrath, Portland, Oregon, USA
13/03/2014 06:01
5
1
1

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