Bovanenkovo stands still letting deer herds pass

July 19, 2013

Today we will tell you how to handle a challenge no oil or gas company in the world has ever handled. For this purpose, we will join the working group responsible for the readiness of deer crossing through the Bovanenkovo field, visit the reindeer herders and watch the busiest motorway in the Yamal Peninsula shut off.

The Yamal Peninsula where the Bovanenkovo field is located features the biggest domestic reindeer population in the world, namely, over 300 thousand animals, of which about 20 per cent belongs to three municipal reindeer herding enterprises, and the others – to private herders, the communities of indigenous minorities of the North. Moreover, each herd has its own route of moving across the Yamal Peninsula or, as they put it, the ‘nomad route’.

They say that it is not the herder who grazes his herd, but the herd that grazes its herder. In summer, running away from gnats and ‘heat’ (here in Yamal ‘heat’ is any temperature above 0°C), the herds head off northwards. And deer will take the familiar route to the north, which is known to them and which was taken by their deer ancestors both ten and hundred years ago, no matter if the herder wants it or not.

But what if one day their route is blocked by one of Gazprom’s major fields with a railroad and motorways, an airport, pipelines and other large-scale infrastructure? And that’s exactly what happened. The Bovanenkovo field is crossed by the routes of two reindeer herding brigades of the Yarsalinskoye reindeer herding enterprise, that is, No. 4 and No. 8.

Gazprom made every effort not to interfere with the traditional lifestyle of indigenous tundra inhabitants when commercially developing the Yamal Peninsula.

For this purpose, at the initial stage of the Bovanenkovo infrastructure construction, Gazprom’s experts and reindeer herders agreed on where the herds and people would cross the field and set up special crossings at the intersections of communication lines and nomad routes.

Every year before the reindeer start nomadising across the field, a working group consisting of representatives from the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area Administration, the Yamal District, the Yamal social movement and Gazprom Dobycha Nadym, a subsidiary of Gazprom, check the availability of crossings.

The working group takes a helicopter to get to the field.

We can’t but land in a few Yamal nomads camps to hand over gifts from relatives living in the regional center.

For this family the ‘gift’ was their student daughter who came to visit their parents for the summer vacations :)

We put down the student and moved on.

The famous bridge over the Yuribey River is the world’s longest bridge beyond the Polar Circle. It is especially beautiful there in summer.

Finally, we arrived at Bovanenkovo.

Special means of transportation are required for checking all the crossings and visiting the camps of reindeer herding brigades. Before pulling off the road the driver lets the air out of these enormous wheels a bit in order not to harm the herb layer in tundra.

Our first stop is at reindeer herding brigade No. 8.

The reindeer herders are already in the field. The discussion starts at once. They tell us that they have checked the crossings through communication lines beforehand and are satisfied.

Brigade leader Mayko Serotetto has a request to bring timber bars to the railroad crossing and lay them between the rails for the sled runners not to break. Got it!

It’s all settled. Now we may take a commemorative picture.

There are a lot of kids around here. From late August to early June schoolchildren live and study at a boarding school in the Yar-Sale district center. They may come to see their parents only for their summer vacations.

Nenets families are big. For example, the brigade leader has six children. Not all of them are in this picture, though. Edeyne (translated as the New Woman), the brigade leader’s wife, stands tall as befits the real chum mistress. The three guys are her children. As for the four-month-old Gleb Vladimirovich, the brigade leader’s nephew, he is in his mother’s arms.

Gleb Vladimirovich with his father.

Guys with apples.

And this, as social network lovers would say, is a ‘fashionable look’ of Serotetto Jr. (translator’s comment: in Russian the word ‘look’ also means a ‘bow’).

The day is dying. Reindeer are gathered in a special enclosure to choose those that will be harnessed to sleds. It is from these sleds that the deer herders on duty will watch the herd.

All the camp inhabitants, including children, are involved in gathering the reindeer in the enclosure.

All of them try to do their best.

Women also help.

It is interesting that after getting the compulsory school education the majority of Nenets girls dream of going to a university and living and working in a town.

As for the boys, every one of them wishes to get away with the school as soon as possible and start helping their fathers with the herd to the full.

We leave the 8th brigade late in the evening. It doesn’t get dark here at all at this time of the year.

One of the crossings is being checked. Here the sloping sections of the road border are dumped so that deer with sleds could easily cross it, and a pipe section is slightly raised above the ground so that neither people nor deer hurt themselves.

The Yamal weather is unpredictable. Yesterday it was sunny and 25 °C above zero, and now it is only 8 °C. And it is windy. And foggy. Some sections of communication lines can’t be approached even by an off-road vehicle. We have to go on foot. Rubber boots are welcomed.

The aim of the hike is to examine the quality of the earth fill over the pipeline. It is not always possible to raise a pipeline above tundra. Sometimes it is more efficient to dump a sloping fill, fix it with a special net and grass it. The working group is satisfied with everything here.

After checking all the crossings of which there are 11, the working group heads to the camp of reindeer herding brigade No. 4.

This is almost the center of the field. Against the skyline there is gas facility No.2 with the capacity of 60 billion cubic meters of gas a year.

Nearby runs the busiest motorway in the field and in the whole Yamal Peninsula as well. It connects the operating gas field facility and the industrial base which comprises the shift workers’ camp, office buildings, a hotel, a canteen, a boiler house, storages and many other support facilities. Basically, the traffic here doesn’t stop for a moment.

Reindeer graze in close proximity to the production facilities.

A reindeer won’t be deceived by bright leaflets about environmental protection. If reindeer lichen or grass is polluted, an animal simply will not eat it. By instinct. That’s why such photos arouse mistrust in foreign colleagues but warm the hearts of Gazprom’s ecologists.

Here’s reindeer herding brigade No. 4. It’s cold. Everyone rests in chums after night work, and the brigade leader invites us for a cup of tea.

The chum mistress is the mistress of the hearth. To make tea, firewood and water are needed. By the way, water is taken from a lake nearby. No filters or chlorine. Another drop of salve on the hearts of Gazprom’s ecologists.

Nyadma Khudi, the brigade leader (leftmost) tells us that the crossing of the busy motorway is scheduled for this evening. At tea the time of traffic interruption is being agreed on.

Some people may consider the inside of the chum too modest. This is a light summer camp type, which may be assembled and disassembled in 15 to 20 minutes. Instead of traditional deer skins the tent cloth is used as cover. When you move to a new location every day, it is inefficient to waste time on improvements and beauty. In winter, though, floors are wooden here, there are numerous deer skins and all in all it is cozier.

While the crew bus assigned to the working group is waiting for its passengers engaged in talk to the brigade leader, a part of reindeer herders ask to give them a lift to the shift workers’ camp.

Their destination is the shop – the only one for hundreds of kilometers around.

— Ninety loaves of bread, please.

The shop assistant is not surprised. Reindeer herders often come here.

Finally, the chums are disassembled, the things are packed and everything is ready for the crossing.

The place of crossing is covered with special material, geofabric, in order for the loaded sleds to slide smoothly and their runners not to break.

The brigade leader is the first one to approach.

He is the first one to cross the motorway.

Following the brigade leader is a long chain of argishes. An argish is a ‘train’ consisting of several sleds linked to each other.

There is everything on the sleds: the house, household appliances, food stock, clothes, children.

Cars start massing up on the blocked motorway. Drivers get out of their cabins. But there is no swearing, honking and, most importantly, attempting to get closer. It was not at once, but all the same people learnt to respect the culture and traditions of Yamal’s masters.

And Yamal’s mistresses as well. By the way, the reindeer herders’ wives are probably the only housewives in the world that get paid. Their husbands work at the Yarsalinskoye municipal reindeer herding enterprise as herdsmen, brigade leaders, and their wives are officially employed as chumworkers, with an employment record, employment term and vacation. It is certainly not an easy job. A man in a chum may only eat and rest. All the other chores, including the construction of a chum itself, are women’s concern.

A long caravan with the main part of the herd following it.

Reindeer not harnessed to sleds may run without geofabric. The main obstacle is a slight slope on the road border. This purely lowland animal is not adapted to passing through highlands.

Right beyond the motorway there is a pipeline additionally raised above the ground.

Bit by bit the herd gathers on the other bank of the stream of cars.

As for the stream of cars itself, it becomes more and more affluent.

Way to go!

Just a bit more. Some may consider the deer scruffy. It’s all right. Summer is the time of shedding.

During this period the bucks’ antlers become blood-engorged, soft and fuzzy. Those are not just antlers anymore; they are velvet antlers – a valuable material for making general tonic and restorative biopharmaceuticals.

While the deer lagging behind are finishing their crossing, the deer herders line up for a commemorative picture. The dogs are full-fledged members of the team. It seems that they lead the deer in a necessary direction without any particular orders from the master. That’s why they have pride of place in the picture.

Done. The herd crossed the motorway in 40 minutes. The traffic resumed. Brigade No.4 has another motorway to cross today. It is not as loaded, but it will be also shut off just in case. Further on, with no other obstacles the herd will head north.

The reindeer will go as far as to the Kara Sea where cold wind from the Arctic Ocean saves them from annoying insects, and the shore is covered with such tasty (in deer terms, of course) sea salt. The summer will end quickly. In August a return trip will start. The brigade leader plans to cross the Bovanenkovo in the opposite direction to the south already in the third decade of the month.

Andrey Teplyakov, Gennady Litvinov, Gazprom Dobycha Nadym; Gazprom website Editorial Board

You can find large size images in Photos.