2007.09 Kärg Kama. Spaces of Indigeneity within the West Siberian Oil Industry: The Case of Salym Petroleum Development

Dr. Kärg Kama – is an ESRC Future Research Leader in the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford. In 2013-2016, Kärg held the Biegun Warburg Junior Research Fellowship at St Anne’s College in combination with a research and teaching fellowship in the School. She continues to be associated with the College as stipendiary lecturer. Kärg joined the School in October 2006 to complete an MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Policy (Distinction, 2007) and a DPhil in Geography and the Environment (2013). She also has a BA in Philosophy from the University of Tartu.

Spaces of Indigeneity within the West Siberian Oil Industry: The Case of Salym Petroleum Development. MSc dissertation in Nature, Society and Environmental Policy. University of Oxford. Centre for the Environment. September 2007.

In West Siberia, multinational oil corporations are about to introduce new policies into the industry’s relations with local indigenous minorities. In studying the case of Salym petroleum development, this dissertation examines the ways in which the interaction between the local population, a foreign company and state authorities is mutually governed and territorially constituted through an oil concession on the Khanty tribal lands. Whereas Michael Watts argues that this interaction may produce a ‘space of indigeneity’, the Salym project presents multiple indigenous spaces. Generated by different forms of rule, conduct and imagining, these spaces can be abstracted as (a) the dominant regime of Russia’s authorities in granting specific ethnic groups indigenous rights and territories, (b) the actions of cooperation or mobilisation among the indigenous population in response to oil development, and, (c) the company’s attempts to manage its indigenous stakeholders and to employ native culture for corporate marketing purposes.

This dissertation focuses on a particular case of a multinational’s entrance into the post-Soviet situation of indigenous politics and resource governance in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug, the oil province of the Russian North. By combining geographical research questions with ethnography-inspired methods, this research seeks to find a middle ground between the currently dominant paradigm of macro-economical analyses on the geopolitics of Russian oil industry, and the single anthropologists’ descriptions of the devastating impacts of petroleum extraction on Khanty livelihoods in Salym village of the Khanty-Mansiysk autonomous okrug.

Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug – Yugra was established in 1931 on the homelands of Finno-Ugric speaking Khanty and Mansi people, and Forest Nenets, a southern sub-group of Samoyedic-speaking Nenets. Since the oil exploitation was started in the 1960s, KMAO’s population has increased about 12 times, while a million Russian-speaking oil and gas workers have moved into the region. While there are approximately 21 000 Khanty and 8200 Mansi living in West Siberia altogether, the indigenous groups currently account for only 1.5% of KMAO’s total population.

Salym oil-fields extend from the Salym village to the KMAO’s southern borderline, covering 2141.4 km2. Situated next to the central route of oil and gas export facilities, highway and railway transport systems passing through Salym village, the geographical location of the concession favours profitable oil production. However, although the Upper Salym oil-bearing sands were discovered already in 1966 and the two other fields in the 1980s, they were not developed because of complicated geo-technical circumstances.

Only in July 1992, several regional industrial units were given the federal approval to establish a new, share-based oil company Evikhon for conducting geological studies and preparatory works to plan oil production at the West and Upper Salym fields with a perspective of further foreign investment. In 1996, a joint venture was set up between Evikhon and Shell Salym Development B.V, a member of Royal Dutch Shell Group. Established on 50/50 basis, Salym Petroleum Development N.V. oil company is therefore governed mostly by non-Russian shareholders and claimed to be the largest on-shore foreign investment project in Russia (2007).

Located just 30km west of Salym, the oil industry non-arguably has an important role in the local life, most notably because of the number of people working in the village’s vicinity for the next 30 years, which is the estimated lifetime of the reserves. During the preparatory phase, the project employed over 4000 temporary constructors. Today, there are over 1500 oil-workers daily present at the oil-fields, most of them coming from outside of Salym area and many having international backgrounds with Shell’s operations in other states.

External to the oil production, the sustainable development staff perform as important mediators between the neighbouring communities of Salym village and oil-workers in a double sense – they are expected to coordinate the relations between these two societies, but at the same time they themselves represent the minority of locally employed oil-workers (about 50 altogether), who occupy an ambiguous position between the development project and its residential community.

Salym village has one of the highest rates of HIV in KMAO. The company annually updated Social Performance Plan indicates the need to limit the contacts between its employees and the near-by settlement on the highway. On the other hand, it has expressed an interest in employing more staff locally when its regular production operations will have settled down. To this end, it has developed an apprenticeship programme for local youths. This programme has already educated some young oil-workers now employed by the company on a long-term basis. Such an approach to increased local employment, which was regarded as the most outstanding commitment to social performance by the interviewed field manager, may be expected to build closer relations between the company and Salym population in the future.

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