Two million square miles of permafrost—an area two-thirds the size of the United States has now thawed since the beginning of the 20th century. And all that thawing permafrost is costing the Russian oil and gas industry billions of dollars to repair damaged pipelines and infrastructure as global warming changes the face of western Siberia.
The energy program head of Greenpeace in Russia, Vladimir Chuprov, after interviewing experts at Gazprom, concluded, “For Russia, the biggest threat of the permafrost melt is to oil and gas company infrastructure.” (from Carbon-Based)
Thawing permafrost presents even more of a threat: it could release frozen methane deposits and causing runaway global warming, mass-extinctions, and huge amounts of economic damage to global infrastructure and economic well being. In addition to Gazprom’s, that is.
Over the last fifty years, the “active layer” of permafrost in Siberia that normally melts and freezes annually is increasing and is now up to a 10 inch thick layer of unstable melting and freezing slush in Western Siberia. The permanently frozen ground or permafrost underneath is getting correspondingly smaller and smaller.
Building pipelines across permafrost is difficult. Oil in pipelines has to be kept above 140° Fahrenheit to flow easily, and drilling deep wells for oil and gas in itself can thaw permafrost.
Politically, the “resource curse” of oil wealth has always seemed to contain the seeds of its own downfall. Oil wealth seems to result in destabilizing inequalities and anti-democratic politics in regions that host the seeming miracle of oil from Nigeria and Somalia to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Russia’s sudden oil wealth has further corrupted politics in a region with no real history of democracy.
But, as it turns out, Russia’s recent oil wealth may not be sustainable: climate change appears poised to curb Russia’s nouveau riche swagger. Repairs to infrastructure caused by thawed permafrost now costs Gazprom 1.9 billion dollars a year. Each year Western Siberia warms, that figure is only going to go up.
Image: Beautiful Life