A few days before Christmas in 2014 a familiar face flickered to life in a conference room at Bovanenkovo, 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle on the Yamal Peninsula of Siberia. Vladimir Putin looked a little pixelated from the satellite uplink. Alexey Miller, CEO of Russia’s energy giant Gazprom, stood stiffly facing the screen and the Russian president. Outside the room the clusters of prefab buildings and shiny pipes were lit up like a space station floating in the darkness. Bovanenkovo is one of the largest natural gas deposits on Earth. Miller asked Putin for the order to start pumping from a new field there.
“You may begin,” said Putin.
Miller relayed the message; an engineer tapped a key. With that, Arctic gas began flowing down a 700-mile pipeline into Russia’s sprawling network. The Yamal Peninsula, a thumb of flat tundra jutting north into the frozen Kara Sea, was known until recently for its nomadic reindeer herders, the Nenets, and under Joseph Stalin for its brutal prison camps. But by 2030, Gazprom estimates, the region will supply more than a third of Russia’s gas production and a lot of its oil. Bovanenkovo is one of more than 30 known gas and oil deposits on the peninsula or just offshore. Yamal could become an Arctic Saudi Arabia funneling hydrocarbons to an energy-hungry world. Or so Putin hopes.