Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Global Warming Threatens Russian Oil Exports, FSB Study Warns

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 20 – A new study, prepared at the request of the Russian security agencies, concludes that global warming is likely to make it impossible for Moscow to continue to export oil and gas at current rates and thus over the next decade or more will undermine the foundations of Russia’s economic recovery and international standing.
Entitled “The World Around Russia: 2017” and edited by Sergei Karaganov, one of Moscow’s most influential political commentators, this study includes articles by scholars from the Academy of Sciences as well as other experts on climate change, economics, and other issues (
Its conclusions are stark: Russia, the newly published book argues, faces a variety of threats from global warming, ranging from the possible influx of immigrants from countries becoming too hot to the loss of access to its oil and gas fields as a result of the melting of the permafrost in many petroleum-rich regions of the Russian north.
And its authors suggest, neither Moscow nor the international community has the ability to prevent this from happening over the next generation or more, even if one or both were to take all the steps that Russian and Western environmental experts now advocate.
Massive immigration is already a political issue in Russia, but the appearance of this book indicates that the dangers global warming poses for Russia’s oil and gas industries are trends that the Kremlin and the Russian security agencies are paying far greater attention to.
If the permafrost melts – and several scholars participating in this study argue that this process has become “irreversible” – then it will be extremely difficult and enormously expensive for Moscow to shore up drilling fields and pipelines on hitherto solid territories transformed into large boggy marshes.
More than any other country, the Russian Federation has extensive experience working in permafrost areas and has developed technologies that allow it to build and operate various facilities in these regions. But if the permafrost melts, as this study suggests it will continue to do, all Russian facilities now on frozen ground will be at risk.
At best, Moscow either will have to spend enormous sums to keep the earth under these pumping stations and pipelines frozen by piping refrigerants into it or be forced to end its exploitation of fields there and thus lose its currently lucrative ability to exploit and export much of its oil and gas reserves.
But the new FSB-backed study does point to one bright spot for Russia as a result of global warming: the melting of the ice in the Arctic Sea. That will allow Moscow to open navigation across the northern edge of the country and construct new cities in the Far North. Such activities, however, would not compensate for the losses elsewhere.
Not surprisingly, some Russian scholars, just like some of their counterparts in the West, downplay the significance of global warming and the role of human activities in promoting or retarding it. But this book shows that in Moscow at least, those who doubt these dangers are far fewer than those who are worried about them.

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