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Learning from Arctic Russia

Recently I participated in the annual Relate North 2021 Symposium, Everyday Extremes, hosted by Tomsk State University. I love these events, and this one was no disappointment, for it was stimulating, challenging and inspiring. In particular this year I realised there are more commonalities between Shetland and Arctic Russia in relation to the Viking Energy Wind Farm development than I could have imagined. I don't know why I previously haven't thought to look at material about the Arctic to gain insight and understanding around issues specifically linked to the development, for it seems so obvious now! The penny dropped during Sofia Prokopova's talk entitled '"Warm' City" in the Arctic: Building Comfort in the Urban Environment' when she began to talk about the fly-in-fly-out workers. I had never realised this term is used in industry and have since discovered a huge number of research articles about the phenomenon.

It is one of several terms used to describe work arrangements where resource operations are located at a distance from existing communities, and is commonly used for 'resource development' in remote areas (Storey, 2010). This form of work has been active in Shetland for a long time as a way to enable our islands to be used as a means to access natural resources, such as oil in the 1970s and gas in the early 20O0s with the construction of the Sullom Voe oil terminal and the Total gas plant respectively, and of course most recently with the mining of our wind resource. The majority of workers in the construction of the Viking Energy wind farm fly in, and fly out. Currently about 200 workers are employed, and I believe less than 100 are based in Shetland. Announcements indicate that the number is increasing to 300, and then to 500 workers as they strive to accelerate construction more intensively.

Sofia's talk also brought other points of learning and realisation in relation to Shetland. It opened my mind to thinking more closely about the Viking Energy Wind Farm development in terms of external exploitation of our natural resources, akin to colonial practices, with SSE and the related network of its sub-companies as the coloniser. It has truly opened the door to more colonisation of our islands as an offshore energy plant for populations very far away. I have to ask if this is just.

I also learned about ideas related to Arctic architecture. Sofia referred to an article from 2017 by Peter Hemmersam, 'Arctic Architures', which theorises different ways of thinking about Arctic architecture. I see affinities with Shetland in some of the nine categories he identifies, specifically the Arctic as Space and the Geopolitical Arctic. The first sees the Arctic as empty. The argument that the Viking Energy Wind Farm was being built on 'empty' land was used repeatedly. There is precedence for this argument going back to the Cold War period when the Arctic, and Shetland, was populated by military operations. Of course the Arctic nor Shetland are 'empty' spaces.

The other category, the Geopolitical Arctic, is where we are today, with the challenges posed by the climate crisis. I have no answers, only concerns and questions. I am as determined as anyone to fight climate crisis and find effective ways to live sustainably. However, I don't accept the claim that a friend made not long ago, that people who live in places like Shetland have to accept these industrial developments, for the sake of the rest of the world. I am not convinced the rest of the world has really thoroughly considered the full picture. Too many people see these developments as 'green'. I don't believe they really are, unless you think of money, financial greed, as 'green'. I have so many questions, here are just some of them.

  • Why harm small populations through damage to their health and decimation of their environment?

  • What real sense is there in destruction of pristine peatlands?

  • Why is Viking Energy in total denial of the potential risk from erosion to their turbine blades?

  • How can they (Viking Energy) dare claim they will never have to replace the blades without providing authoritative evidence?

  • Has there really been fair and rigorous financial consideration of the economic advantage of siting the view in Shetland?

  • Why have Viking Energy, SSE, our local council and, indeed, the Scottish government, ignored research into issues that lie at the heart of these questions?

  • And please, can we have some realistic calculation of the net effect of this development on emissions?

What dismays me perhaps more than anything, is that these questions have been asked for many years by local people in Shetland, yet they fall on deaf ears. Sadly we have no recourse to decisions that are made outwith our community. There seems to be no one who listens. There is no meaningful or effective monitoring of the construction work, or the way that decisions are made. Future development already feels out of control.


Hemmersam, P. Arctic architectures. Polar Record, 52(04), 412–422.

Storey, Keith. (2010). Fly-in/Fly-out: Implications for Community Sustainability. Sustainability. 2. 10.3390/su2051161.

Diagram showing cycle of fly-in-fly-out


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