TERIBERKA, Russia – The warming Arctic should already have transformed this impoverished fishing village on the coast of the Barents Sea.
The Kremlin spent billions in the last decade in hopes of turning it into a northern hub of its global energy powerhouse, Gazprom. It was once the most ambitious project planned in the Arctic Ocean, but now there is little to show for it aside from a shuttered headquarters and an enormous gravel road carved out of the windblown coastline like a scar.
"There are plans," said Viktor Turchaninov, the village's mayor, "but the facts — the realities of life — suggest the opposite."
The dream of an Arctic Klondike, made possible by the rapid warming of once-icebound waters, has been at the core of Russia's national ambitions and those of the world's biggest energy companies for more than a decade. But even as Royal Dutch Shell began drilling an exploratory well this summer off the north coast of Alaska, Russia's experiences here have become a cautionary tale, one that illustrates the challenges facing those imagining that a changing Arctic will produce oil and gas riches.
Tectonic shifts in the global energy economy, fierce opposition from environmentalists who oppose tampering with the ecologically fragile waters and formidable logistical obstacles have tempered enthusiasm that only a few years ago seemed boundless.
Then the market changed. The world today is awash in oil and natural gas, largely because of the shale revolution in the United States and the advent of hydraulic fracturing, which has so increased production that the U.S. has slashed imports.
The difficulties of getting oil and gas out of the Arctic are daunting. Winters are long and dark, and the Arctic seas, despite reductions in the permanent ice pack, are still clogged with floes and icebergs, while intensifying storms have threatened ships or oil rigs. Coastal erosion and melting permafrost complicate the construction of pipelines and support facilities. There are few roads or airports near the areas to be drilled, requiring workers and equipment to be shipped long distances.
Teriberka, a village of 1,000 people on the Barents Sea, is where Gazprom's offshore ambitions collided with the harsh realities of the Arctic.
It was a thriving fishing village in Soviet times, but it fell into decline in the 1970s with the advent of industrial fishing.
The village's residents welcomed Gazprom's plans to tap an enormous gas field, called the Shtokman, that was discovered in 1988 about 370 miles offshore.
Under the control of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Gazprom emerged as an energy giant controlled by the state, and for much of the 2000s, the Shtokman was its biggest prize, a project that Russia dangled before eager foreign investors. After reaching deals with Total and Statoil, Gazprom began construction of the road in Teriberka where it hoped to build terminals for processing and shipping the gas in liquefied form — all at a cost estimated to rise to $20 billion.
After years of work, however, Russia's plans for the project came under pressure from enormous technical challenges, the changing energy market and finally the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009.
Igor Abanosimov owns a series of floating cottages that he rents out, dreaming, perhaps improbably, of developing a yacht club and other amenities that might attract tourists instead of energy companies. The Arctic, he said, had its own soul.
"Those it wants to accept, it accepts," he explained. "Those it wants to banish, it banishes."