Tight Oil and Water: Climate Change and the Extractive Waterscape of Western Siberia

  • Owen King
Part of the Water Security in a New World book series (WSEC)


With conventional oil production declining in the Western Siberian Basin, Russia is incentivising the development of ‘tight oil’ reserves using hydraulic fracturing technologies. This chapter reviews the existing literature on two under-explored aspects of the unconventional hydrocarbons debate. First, that much of the research on the environmental and social implications of hydraulic fracturing for ‘unconventional oil and gas’ has focused substantively on shale gas. In particular, perspectives on the specific nature of tight oil and its extraction are notably scarce. Second, I argue that the increasingly apparent risks posed by the hydrological implications of climate change, extreme weather and the expansion of tight oil are worthy of much greater empirical attention.

The examples given in this chapter call attention to the specific materiality of tight oil and water, and the way in which water, nature and people mediate each other in an ‘extractive waterscape.’ Thus, the geophysical nature of tight oil is manifest in the intensity of production, and comes into conflict with the increasing intensity of hydrological dynamics. While this poses significant socio-ecological threats to indigenous livelihoods in Western Siberia, it is argued that water can play a key role in resistance. By placing the role of water in mediating cultural relationships with the land, at the centre of these struggles, indigenous space may be reclaimed. I conclude by highlighting three main areas for future research on the subject of tight oil extraction and water resources in the fields of the environmental sciences, physical and human geography.


Hydraulic fracturing Unconventional hydrocarbons Tight oil Energy Russia Western Siberia Climate change Water Extreme weather Indigenous space 


  1. Agyeman J, Ogneva-Himmelberger Y (eds) (2009) Environmental justice and sustainability in the former Soviet Union. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  2. Akob DM, Cozzarelli IM, Dunlap DS, Rowan EL, Lorah MM (2015) Organic and inorganic composition and microbiology of produced waters from Pennsylvania shale gas wells. Appl Geochem 60:116–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson DG (2006) Is Siberian reindeer herding in crisis? Living with reindeer fifteen years after the end of state socialism. Nomad People 10(2):87–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Balzer MM (2006) The tension between might and rights: Siberians and energy developers in post-socialist binds. Eur Asia Stud 58(4):567–588CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bogoyavlenskiy D (2010) Russia’s indigenous peoples of the north: a demographic portrait at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Sibirica 9(3):91–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bridges O, Bridges J (1996) Losing hope: the environment and health in Russia. Avebury, AldershotGoogle Scholar
  7. Budds J, Hinojosa-Valencia L (2012) Restructuring and rescaling water governance in mining contexts: the co-production of waterscapes in Peru. Water Alternatives 5(1):119–137Google Scholar
  8. Chance NA, Andreeva EN (1995) Sustainability, equity, and natural resource development in Northwest Siberia and Arctic Alaska. Hum Ecol 23(2):217–240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cozzarelli IM, Skalak K, Kent D, Engle MA, Benthem A, Mumford A, Haase K, Farag A, Harper D, Nagel S (2017) Environmental signatures and effects of an oil and gas wastewater spill in the Williston Basin, North Dakota. Sci Total Environ 579:1781–1793CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Donahoe B (2009) The law as a source of environmental injustice in the Russian Federation. In: Agyeman J, Ogneva-Himmelberger Y (eds) Environmental justice and sustainability in the former Soviet Union. MIT Press, Cambridge, pp 21–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. EIA (2017) Country analysis brief: Russia. U.S. Energy Information AdministrationGoogle Scholar
  12. EIA (2018) The United States is now the largest global crude oil producer. Available from: Accessed 28 Sept 2018
  13. EPA (1998) Environmental risk assessments of oil and gas activities using national security and civilian data sources. United States Environmental Protection AgencyGoogle Scholar
  14. Farchy J (2014) Russian oil: between a rock and a hard place. The Financial Times, 29 October 2014Google Scholar
  15. Farchy J (2017) Gazprom Neft strives to go it alone in Russian shale oil. The Financial Times, 3 January 2017Google Scholar
  16. Feshbach M, Friendly A (1992) Ecocide in the USSR: health and nature under siege. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  17. Forbes BC (1999) Land use and climate change on the Yamal Peninsula of north-west Siberia: some ecological and socio-economic implications. Polar Res 18(2):367–373CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gachechiladze M, Staddon C (2007) Towards a political ecology of oil in post-communist Georgia: the conflict over the Kulevi oil port development. J Polit Ecol 14(1):58–75Google Scholar
  19. Gazprom Neft (2016) Gazprom Neft becomes the first company in Russia to undertake 30-stage multi-stage fracking. Available from: Accessed 26 Sept 2018
  20. Goncharova OY, Matyshak G, Bobrik A, Moskalenko N, Ponomareva O (2015) Temperature regimes of northern taiga soils in the isolated permafrost zone of Western Siberia. Eurasian Soil Sci 48(12):1329–1340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Greenpeace (2014) A brief overview of the oil spill problem in Russia. Greenpeace Russia. Available from: Accessed 26 Sept 2018
  22. Grippa M, Mognard N, Le Toan T, Biancamaria S (2007) Observations of changes in surface water over the western Siberia lowland. Geophys Res Lett 34(15):1–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gruza G, Ran’kova EY (2009) Assessment of forthcoming climate changes on the territory of the Russian Federation. Russ Meteorol Hydrol 34(11):709–718CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Henderson J (2013) Tight oil developments in Russia [online]. The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. Accessed 11 June 2018Google Scholar
  25. Henry LA, Nysten-Haarala S, Tulaeva S, Tysiachniouk M (2016) Corporate social responsibility and the oil industry in the Russian Arctic: global norms and neo-paternalism. Eur Asia Stud 68(8):1340–1368CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. IEA (2006) Optimising Russian natural gas: reform and climate policy [online]. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development/International Energy Agency. Accessed 15 July 2018Google Scholar
  27. IEA (2013) World energy outlook 2013 [online]. International Energy Agency. Accessed 10 June 2018Google Scholar
  28. IEA (2018) Oil 2018: analysis and forecasts to 2023. International Energy AgencyGoogle Scholar
  29. Istomin KV, Dwyer MJ (2009) Finding the way: a critical discussion of anthropological theories of human spatial orientation with reference to reindeer herders of northeastern Europe and western Siberia. Curr Anthropol 50(1):29–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Jackson R, Gorody A, Mayer B, Roy J, Ryan M, Van Stempvoort D (2013) Groundwater protection and unconventional gas extraction: the critical need for field-based hydrogeological research. Groundwater 51(4):488–510CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Jordan P (2004) Ethnic survival and the Siberian Khanty: on-going transformations in seasonal mobility and traditional culture. Nomad People 8(1):17–42MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kama K (2007) Spaces of indigeneity within the West Siberian oil industry: the case of Salym petroleum development [online]. Masters, University of Oxford. Available from: Accessed 12 Sept 2018
  33. Kappel WM, Williams JH, Szabo Z (2013) Water resources and shale gas/oil production in the Appalachian basin: critical issues and evolving developments [online]. US Geological Survey. Accessed 12 June 2017Google Scholar
  34. Kondash AJ, Albright E, Vengosh A (2017) Quantity of flowback and produced waters from unconventional oil and gas exploration. Sci Total Environ 574:314–321CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Korppoo A, Tynkkynen N, Hønneland G (2015) Environmental regimes and Russia’s approaches to environmental and foreign policy. In: Korppoo A (ed) Russia and the politics of international environmental regimes: environmental encounters or foreign policy? Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, pp 9–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kotov V, Nikitina E (2002) Reorganisation of environmental policy in Russia: The decade of success and failures in implementation and perspective quests [online]. Nota di Lavoro, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei. Accessed 28 Sept 2018Google Scholar
  37. Kumpula T, Forbes B, Stammler F (2010) Remote sensing and local knowledge of hydrocarbon exploitation: the case of Bovanenkovo, Yamal Peninsula, West Siberia, Russia. Arctic 63:165–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kuwayama Y, Roeshot S, Krupnick A, Richardson N, Mares J (2017) Risks and mitigation options for on-site storage of wastewater from shale gas and tight oil development. Energy Policy 101:582–593CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lane TM (2018) The frontline of refusal: indigenous women warriors of standing rock. Int J Qual Stud Educ 31(3):197–214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Luhn A (2015) Russia’s Rosneft charged over pipeline leak that caused oil to come out of taps. The Guardian, 30 June 2015Google Scholar
  41. Malik LK, Owen L, Micklin PP (2018) Ob River. Available from: Accessed 9 June 2018
  42. Maugeri L (2012) Oil: the next revolution [online]. The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Accessed 28 Sept 2018Google Scholar
  43. Maugeri L (2013) The shale oil boom: a US phenomenon [online]. Harvard Kennedy School, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Accessed 28 Sept 2018Google Scholar
  44. Met Office (2011) Climate: observations, projections and impacts (Russia). Met OfficeGoogle Scholar
  45. Newell JP, Henry LA (2016) The state of environmental protection in the Russian Federation: a review of the post-Soviet era. Eurasian Geogr Econ 57(6):779–801CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Oldfield JD (2005) Russian nature: exploring the environmental consequences of societal change. AshgateGoogle Scholar
  47. Oldfield JD (2017) Russian nature: exploring the environmental consequences of societal change. RoutledgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Orem W, Tatu C, Varonka M, Lerch H, Bates A, Engle M, Crosby L, McIntosh J (2014) Organic substances in produced and formation water from unconventional natural gas extraction in coal and shale. Int J Coal Geol 126:20–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Orttung RW (2016) Sustaining Russia’s Arctic cities: resource politics, migration, and climate change. Berghahn Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  50. Peterson DJ (1993) Troubled lands: the legacy of Soviet environmental destruction: legacy of environmental destruction. Routledge, BoulderGoogle Scholar
  51. Pluzhnikov NV (2009) Reindeer-herding in circumpolar regions of Russia: general issues, challenges and observations. In: Beach H, Funk D, Sillanpää L (eds) Post-Soviet transformations: politics of ethnicity and resource use in Russia. Digitala Enheten, Uppsala, pp 203–216Google Scholar
  52. Robinson-Welsh AA (2015) Whose ‘nature’ is it in? The Navajo Generating Station and the politics of nature, space and colonialism in Northern Arizona [online]. Senior Capstone Projects. Accessed 15 July 2018Google Scholar
  53. Rodriguez RS, Soeder DJ (2015) Evolving water management practices in shale oil & gas development. J Unconv Oil Gas Resour 10:18–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Roumell EA (2018) Experience and community grassroots education: social learning at standing rock. New Dir Adult Contin Educ 2018(158):47–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Saiko T (2001) Environmental crises: geographical case studies in Post-Socialist Eurasia. Pearson EducationGoogle Scholar
  56. Semenov V (2011) Climate-related changes in hazardous and adverse hydrological events in the Russian rivers. Russ Meteorol Hydrol 36(2):124–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Shiklomanov A, Lammers R (2009) Record Russian river discharge in 2007 and the limits of analysis. Environ Res Lett 4(4):045015CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Shvarts EA, Pakhalov AM, Knizhnikov AY (2016) Assessment of environmental responsibility of oil and gas companies in Russia: the rating method. J Clean Prod 127:143–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Speight JG (2013) Shale gas production processes. Gulf Professional Publishing, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  60. Speight JG (2016a) Deep shale oil and gas. Gulf Professional Publishing, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  61. Speight JG (2016b) Handbook of hydraulic fracturing. Wiley, HobokenCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Stammler F (2013) Oil without Conflict. In: Behrends A, Reyna SP, Schlee G (eds) Crude domination: an anthropology of oil. Berghahn Books, Oxford, pp 243–270Google Scholar
  63. Takakura H (2016) Limits of pastoral adaptation to permafrost regions caused by climate change among the Sakha people in the middle basin of Lena River. Pol Sci 10(3):395–403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. The Siberian Times (2015a) Floods break the banks of the River Ob, with 10 metre rise in water level. The Siberian Times, 12 June 2015Google Scholar
  65. The Siberian Times (2015b) Oil spill causes ‘ecological disaster’ close to Nefteyugansk city. The Siberian Times, 30 June 2015Google Scholar
  66. Tuzova Y, Qayum F (2016) Global oil glut and sanctions: the impact on Putin’s Russia. Energy Policy 90:140–151Google Scholar
  67. Tynkkynen N (2010) A great ecological power in global climate policy? Framing climate change as a policy problem in Russian public discussion. Environ Polit 19(2):179–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. UNESCO (2018) The Great Vasyugan Mire. Available from: Accessed 4 July 2018
  69. USDOE (2018) Department of energy to invest $30 million to boost unconventional oil and natural gas recovery. Available from: Accessed 25 Sept 2018
  70. Walker EL, Anderson AM, Read LK, Hogue TS (2017) Water use for hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas in the South Platte River Basin, Colorado. JAWRA J Am Water Resour Assoc 53(4):839–853CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Wenar L (2015) Blood oil: tyrants, violence, and the rules that run the world. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  72. Wheeler D, MacGregor M, Atherton F, Christmas K, Dalton S, Dusseault M, Gagnon G, Hayes B, MacIntosh C, Mauro I (2015) Hydraulic fracturing–Integrating public participation with an independent review of the risks and benefits. Energy Policy 85:299–308CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Wiget A, Balalaeva O (1996) Black snow: oil and the Khanty of Western SIberia. Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine, December 1996Google Scholar
  74. Wiget A, Balalaeva O (2011) Khanty, people of the Taiga: surviving the 20th century. University of Alaska Press, FairbanksGoogle Scholar
  75. Zemtsov V, Paromov V, Kopysov S, Kouraev A, Negrul S (2014) Hydrological risks in Western Siberia under the changing climate and anthropogenic influences conditions. Int J Environ Stud 71(5):611–617CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Owen King
    • 1
  1. 1.University of BirminghamBirminghamUK

Personalised recommendations