Dr. Perevalova
Senior Research Fellow, Arctic Research Center, Museum of Anthropology and
Ethnography, Russian Academy of Sciences

The Nenets. Surrounding society and the main economic activity of the region of residence


Industrial development of natural resources, primarily hydrocarbons, and Russia’s state geostrategy for reviving the development of the Russian Arctic, including navigation along the Northern Sea Route (because of, among other things, global warming and melting ice in the Arctic seas) serve as the main drivers of developing the regions of the Nenets’ residence. 

The Yamal Peninsula (the Yamal Nenets autonomous area) accounts for 22 % of the global gas deposits and for 85 % of Russia’s natural gas production. This region has the Bovanenkovo, Tambey, and Southern industrial zones with growing transportation and residential infrastructure. Flights, maritime transportation and ports (Sabetta), gas pipelines, highways, Obskaya-Bovanenkovo single-track railway (the peninsula’s main transportation and infrastructure line) link them with the “mainland.” A large chunk of the Obskaya-Bovanenkovo railway travels along the Khoy ridge, the watershed between the Kara and Ob catchment areas, the main road of Yamal nomads they travel with their reindeer herds from forest boundaries to sea shores. This circumstance foregrounds the issue of competition between the two roads serving as the backbones of their respective industrial economic systems. Rotation workers employed in gas production mostly live in three large rotation settlements, Bovanenkovo, Kharasavey, and Sabetta. The number of rotation workers in the peninsula change depending on the season between 6.000 and 14.000 people, which significantly increases the number of permanent residents. In the foreseeable future, Yamal’s “industrial population” may double to 30.000 people. 

The Taymyr Peninsula (the Taymyr Dolgan Nenets municipal district of the Krasnoyarsk territory) has some of Russia’s largest reserves of natural resources: it has platinum, platinum group metals, cobalt, copper and nickel ores, impact industrial diamonds, stone coal. Nornickel is the region’s main natural resources producer. The peninsula’s hard-to-reach location has long been preserving its natural resources. The peninsula’s arctic desert served as a shelter for wild reindeer. Today, the share of the mining industry (coal, crude oil, and gas production) accounts for 32.6% of the industrial production in the Taymyr Dolgan Nenets municipal district. Rural, hunting, and fishing enterprises mostly engage in reindeer herding, fishing, and hunting. As of January 01, 2021, they had 121.251 head of domestic reindeer; recently, reindeer numbers have been falling. At the same time, the Taymyr Peninsula has recently been positioning itself as the Arctic’s new large-scale oil cluster. Over 40 sectoral companies operate here (mostly Rosneft Company Group). The Nenets autonomous area also has large oil and gas deposits (the Timan Pechora oil and gas field has Russia’s fourth-largest oil reserves). There are 83 discovered hydrocarbon deposits: 71 oil deposits, six oil and gas condensate deposits, one gas and oil field, four gas condensate deposits, and one gas deposit. The agriculture has well-developed dairy cattle farming and reindeer herding. In 1990, the autonomous area had 191.500 head of reindeer, 136.400 head in 2000, and 165.600 head in 2010. As of January 1, 2011, agricultural enterprises owned 70 % of reindeer in the area ( The North and the North People 2012: 260, 262). Reindeer grazing areas have an area of 13.202.200 ha (74.67 %). Geological exploration had a negative effect on the tundra. Since the 1960s, it has affected over 200.000 ha of reindeer pastures. Even greater pasture areas have been exhausted by excessive reindeer grazing in the 1980s-early 1990s.

Industrial development at the Kola Peninsula (the Murmansk region) is linked with natural resource extraction. Mining and mining and processing enterprises, including such giants as Apatit MPP, Kandalaksha Aluminum plant, Kola Metallurgy Company span the entire peninsula. Murmansk, the largest port and the only ice-free deep-water harbor in the Russian Arctic, serves as both the main hub of the Northern Sea Route and the main base of the Northern Navy, Russia’s geopolitical outpost in the north of Europe and the fishing center of the Barents region. Encircled by this industrial area, the Lovozero district (with the area of 53.000 square meters, 1/3 of the Murmansk region’s territory, and with the population of 11.000 persons) with its reindeer breeding looks like a pastoral oasis . However, industrial development has not bypassed it entirely: here, reindeer herding and animal husbandry exist side and by side with mining enterprises. The region’s location close to the border and its well-developed transportation infrastructure create excellent conditions for domestically distributing and exporting agricultural commodities