A diagram showing where the 17 high-pressure pipelines carrying 89% of all natural gas produced in Russia pass through a single 500 by 500 meter area. Locals call the area "the Cross." (Image: voprosik.net)
Eighty-nine percent of Russia’s natural gas production comes from the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District in the Russian Far North and passes via 17 high-pressure pipelines through a single 500 by 500 meter area resting on permafrost on its way to European Russia and foreign markets.
Not surprisingly, the Russian government has taken the possibility of terrorism against these pipelines seriously given their importance for electrical and heat production inside Russia and for the money the gas they carry earns Moscow from its sale abroad and has introduced extreme security restrictions on the area.
But what it has not done and indeed what it cannot do is prevent the kind of natural disaster that is now appearing more and more often in the Russian Far North as a result of global warming: methane bubble explosions leading to sinkholes many tens of meters across. (See “Global warming already having ‘explosive’ consequences in Russian North”)
As Gazprom has repeatedly declared: “There is no alternative to the Yamal fields!” But just like their Soviet predecessors, so too the Russian rulers of today, because of their propensity for centralization and for ignoring the potential for natural disasters, have done little to prepare any work around.
Consequently, Russia’s natural gas production or more precisely its ability to deliver it either to its own citizens who depend on it for electricity and heat or to customers abroad is far riskier now than anyone wants to admit or plan for.
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