Staunton, April 4 – Pingo, an Inuit word meaning “small hill,” refers to land in the far north that has been pushed up by methane released from melting permafrost or by gas leaks from human exploitation of fields in the region. According to satellite imagery, there are more than 7,000 of these in the Russian North.
They represent the extreme form of land change that threatens all human construction in the region, including not unimportantly gas and oil pipelines and military bases. And if they explode as ever more of them appear to be doing, they could damage such key infrastructure (siberiantimes.com/other/others/news/crater-formed-by-exploding-pingo-in-arctic-erupts-a-second-time-from-methane-emissions/; cf. windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/10/global-warming-threatens-moscows-arctic.html).
Vasily Bogoyavlensky, deputy head of the Moscow Oil and Gas Research Institute, warns that the problem may be far more serious than many had thought up to now. The pingos not only explode like volcanoes but may cause the leakage of natural gas that could damage the environment.
Over the last several years, he has warned that pingos are set to damage pipelines, industry and housing in the North. Now, he is arguing that human exploitation of natural gas may have caused some of the pingos to appear. “It is possible,” he says, “that some are technogenic in nature.””
If that theory catches on, it will undoubtedly attract the attention of both Russian and international environmental protection organizations and also members of the numerically small peoples of the North who will see these pingos not as something natural but rather the work of Russian development, something that could trigger new conflicts.
But the most serious threat – and certainly the one Putin will be most worried about – is that one or more pingos may destroy gas pipelines and limit Russia’s ability to earn money from exports or even supply its own population with heat during the winter. Either of those could be a greater threat than any sanctions applied up to do.