TIME portfolio

Documenting the Hard Life in Russia’s Frozen Arctic

“The Arctic is like a blank sheet on which you could see all the tensions of Russia played out."

The Soviet Union was known for its doublespeak, but when Moscow bureaucrats called the 7,000-km area of the Russian Arctic the “zone of absolute discomfort,” they were speaking the truth. Temperatures in the settlements of the far north, which spans from Alaska to Finland, can dip below –45°C in the winter. Living conditions are wretched, which is one reason Stalin used these towns as gulags. Descendants of some of the prisoners still live in these Arctic communities. Among the people who seem adapted to the conditions are the indigenous herders known as Nenets, who live in tents called chums.

Yet there are billions of tons of oil and natural gas locked beneath the permafrost—a fact that has drawn a new wave of workers to the Arctic, as the photographer Justin Jin documents. It’s not an easy place to work as a photographer—Jin once got frostbite from the cold metal of his camera pressed against his face—but the material is worth it. “The Arctic is like a blank sheet on which you could see all the tensions of Russia played out,” says Jin, who has worked in Russia for years. “You have the extreme expanse of space, the endless nature, the riches trapped in the tundra. It’s all the contradictions and juxtapositions of Russia.”

Justin Jin is a documentary photographer based in Belgium.

Bryan Walsh is TIME’s Foreign Editor.

MONEY The Economy

Iran Deal’s Sanction Plan Could Affect Oil Prices

An Iranian nuclear deal could bring an influx of oil, but when and how sanctions are lifted could also affect prices.

The deadline for a nuclear deal is June 30, which could lead to the lifting of sanctions on Iran. Oil is believed to make up 80% of Iran’s exports, and current sanctions have chopped those exports in half. Iran could potentially add another 800,000 barrels of oil a day to the market within six to nine months, according to Robin Mills, an energy strategist for Manaar Energy. Even though the potential for pumping oil in Iran is strong, deal makers are pushing for sanctions to be lifted gradually instead of immediately.

Read next: Gas Prices Have Probably Peaked for the Year

TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Is Why FDA Is Banning Trans Fats

The FDA is moving to eliminate trans fat, and here's why that's a good thing

On Tuesday U.S. officials announced that they are moving forward with a ban on artificial trans fat in the food supply. Over the next three years, food manufacturers must remove the primary source of artificial trans fat—partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs)—from their products. Here’s what you should know.

What is trans fat?
Trans fat is the byproduct of PHOs, and it’s created through a process called hydrogenation. Under certain conditions, sending hydrogen through oil can cause the oils to change in thickness and saturation and even become solids. This can give foods a certain taste and texture and it can up the shelf life of processed food.

Why is it bad for me?
Trans fat is linked to heart disease. This kind of fat has been shown to raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol—which can increase risk of heart problems and even type-2 diabetes. Trans fat builds up plaque in arteries, which could eventually lead to heart attack. A 2014 study also suggested that eating a lot of trans fat could be linked to memory issues. In 2013, the FDA determined that PHOs do not meet their distinction of “generally recognized as safe” for human consumption.

What type of foods have trans fat?
Processed foods like baked and frozen products are most likely to contain trans fat. According to the FDA, here are some foods that commonly contain it:

  • crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies and other baked goods
  • snack foods like microwave popcorn
  • coffee creamers
  • refrigerated dough products like biscuits and cinnamon rolls
  • ready-to-use frostings

How much trans fat are we consuming?
The FDA says that between 2003 to 2012 the agency estimates that trans fat consumption has declined by about 78%. One recent March report found that 37% of foods in grocery stores may contain trans fat. Food companies are currently allowed to say they have zero trans fat, and label the product as such, if they contain less than 0.5 grams per serving. Many experts say trans fats are unsafe even at that level.

Will trans fat be completely eliminated?
Not entirely. Trans fat occurs naturally in meat and dairy products and may be produced at very low levels in some oils during manufacturing. Since 2006, the FDA has required that trans fat be listed on nutrition labels, so you can see if your snacks contain it.

Will the taste of food change?
Not in a way that you’re likely to notice. There are lots of alternative fatty products that can be used as replacements. Companies have known for a long time that the FDA was likely heading in this direction, and they still have three more years until the final deadline. That means they have time to change and refine their products without trans fat. Also, many companies have already started the process, with many eliminating the fat altogether. Other local governments, like New York City for example, banned artificial trans fat a long time ago in restaurants.

Read next: The FDA Finally Caught Up to Science on Trans Fats

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME society

There’s No Such Thing As a Spill-Proof Way to Transport Oil

pipeline
Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Even the world's first long-distance pipeline that crossed the Alleghenies in 1879 was prone to accidents and sabotage

To a historian of pipelines, last month’s Santa Barbara oil spill is a reminder that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Since their first introduction in the late 19th century, pipelines have leaked regularly and ruptured occasionally. While it’s true that improved technology and regulation have reduced spills significantly—much like flying today is far safer than in the early years of commercial aviation—the fact remains that there exists no such thing as a spill-proof pipeline. Recognizing this historical reality is crucial to crafting future policy.

Long-distance pipelines were developed in the late 19th century to compete with railroads for the conveyance of crude oil. The problem in the 1870s was not that railroads lacked sufficient capacity to carry oil or that they spilled unacceptable amounts (though they did, to be sure, leak considerably). Rather, the problem had a name: John D. Rockefeller. He’d built his Standard Oil empire by using bulk shipments to negotiate better rates on his oil deliveries than any of his competitors. By controlling railroad shipments, Rockefeller controlled the industry. Pipeline pioneers hoped that creating an alternative transport system would turn the tide in their favor. As a result, these pioneers cared primarily about two things: cost and competition. As long as small spills did not dramatically reduce profitability, environmental safety wasn’t high on their list of priorities, to put it mildly.

Long-distance pipeline dreams first became reality in 1879 in Pennsylvania. Led by Byron Benson and a group of colleagues unaffiliated with Standard Oil, the Tide-Water Pipeline represented a remarkable technological achievement that can be compared to the building of the Brooklyn Bridge a few years later. The project was so audacious that skeptical observers dubbed it “Benson’s Folly.” From January to May of 1879, scores of men and horses hauled thousands of tons of pipes through the wilderness of the Allegheny Mountains to complete the 106-mile route. Engineers designed new pumps capable of pushing the oil over an 1,100-foot elevation gain without exceeding the pressure limits of the cast-iron pipes. Most significantly, Benson and his team overcame intense competitive threats such as armed teams ripping up pipes and fraudulent land claims organized by Rockefeller and his railroad allies.

Excitement in western Pennsylvania ran high on May 28, 1879, when the pipeline operators started the great pumps and inserted oil into the lines. The oil moved at a slow pace of about a half-a-mile per hour and several people began walking along with the oil. But within two days, the pressure in the pipes rose rapidly and the pumps had to be stopped. A crew opened the pipeline and discovered some pieces of wood and rope stuck inside the line. Company officials suspected sabotage, but could not rule out careless workers. Though company reports do not mention the amount of oil lost, there is no doubt that significant quantities of oil flowed onto the ground when the pipes were opened. Even before the first oil reached the end of the pipeline, therefore, a spill had occurred.

With the obstacles removed, the pumps turned back on and the oil began moving again. On the evening of June 4, a large crowd gathered in Williamsport. At around 7:20, the pipes released a strange whooshing noise and oil soon began to flow into the collecting tanks below. People filled souvenir bottles with the oil and newspapers report that a “spirited celebration” followed. The era of pipelines had begun.

Once pipeline technology had been proven, Rockefeller quickly moved to build his own extensive network. Within five years, he had reasserted his dominance of oil transport, though now more than three-quarters of oil traveled through pipes rather than on rails. Like the Tide-Water, Rockefeller’s early pipelines exhibited a pattern of slow and steady leaks punctuated by dramatic bursts. Small leaks caused by poorly sealed joints or defects in the cast-iron pipes were so common that they rarely appear in the historical record. More consequential leaks obtained brief newspaper mention but little call for change in industry practice. In March 1885, for example, one of Standard Oil’s pipelines burst on a farmer’s property. Sparks from a locomotive ignited the oil leading newspapers to describe “a terrific conflagration [that] raged for 20 hours.” Just over one year later, the same pipeline ruptured resulting in “farms deluged with oil and huge bonfires of crude petroleum burning for three days.”

Why did early pipelines fail so often? In part, because oil spills were endemic to all aspects of the industry. At the time the Tide-Water Pipeline was under construction, oil producers in western Pennsylvania were spilling an estimated 5,000 to 12,000 barrels of oil every day as gushing wells spewed petroleum before they could be capped and hastily erected storage tanks leaked steadily. To put this into context, the equivalent amount of oil lost in the 1986 Exxon Valdez disaster was spilled every month in western Pennsylvania. At oil refineries, residual traces of petroleum that could not be sold as products were frequently dumped into nearby rivers. For most in the loosely regulated early days of the oil industry, spilling some oil here and there was far more profitable than investing in the expensive technology necessary to control a finicky liquid.

Over time, pipelines have become more reliable, featuring better welding of their joints along with extensive monitoring systems. However, the development and implementation of these technologies has rarely happened on its own; in most cases, regulations and public pressure have been necessary to spur change. Without strong penalties, it is cheaper for companies to allow small leaks than to build better pipelines.

Yet despite improvement, pipelines remain imperfect. In the United States, a pipeline spill occurs nearly every day, with over 1,400 accidents in America between 2010 and 2013. Historian Sean Kheraj has recently demonstrated that even a pipeline that has operated with a 99.999 percent success rate in Canada has averaged a spill-and-a-half a year and discharged about 5.8 million liters of oil over the past 40 years. A very low failure rate (one likely to be understated as it relies so heavily on self-reporting by leakers), therefore, can still produce heavy environmental damage.

How, then, should we think about pipeline spills? One option is to consider reverting to shipping oil by railroad. As it turns out, such an experiment is underway. The shale oil boom in places such as North Dakota has recently generated large increases in petroleum production at sites with little pipeline infrastructure. Much of this oil is traveling by railroad, and the environmental consequences have been mixed. Several high-profile derailments and explosions have demonstrated that railroads—particularly those operating on old tracks—create similar risks as pipelines. Accidents are more common on railroads than pipelines, though the average quantity of oil lost is much higher in pipeline incidents than on railroads. Neither system is perfect.

Regardless of whether shipped by pipeline or railroad, a clear historical lesson is that greater public scrutiny and regulation of oil transporters reduces the frequency and severity of spills. Citizens are well within their rights to insist that government agencies require pipeline companies to do better.

But this is not all. Simply demonizing pipeline operators for their spills is a convenient way for citizens to ignore their complicity in environmental degradation. Oil is transported in such massive quantities because the vast majority of Americans demand to use it regularly. Our everyday actions, including driving cars and surrounding ourselves with plastics, undergird a world in which pipelines appear as a ubiquitous feature of our landscapes.

There’s a parallel here to another liquid Southern Californians—and many of us throughout the Southwest—have to import to ensure survival and economic prosperity: water. Most of us are aware that our choices as water consumers—to move to arid lands, water lawns, and support a massive agricultural industry in formerly dry areas.—aggravates the tightness of water supplies and contributes to our recurring droughts. It would be good to think similarly about all that oil coursing into our region’s veins, and become more serious about cutting back on our consumption.

Christopher F. Jones is an assistant professor at Arizona State University. He is the author of Routes of Power: Energy and Modern America. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME energy

OPEC Set to Play the Waiting Game in Oil Market

An OPEC flag blows in the wind in Oran, Algeria.
Adam Berry—Bloomberg via Getty Images An OPEC flag blows in the wind in Oran, Algeria.

Continuing low oil prices is the only way for OPEC to increase its market share

Following OPEC’s decision not to cut production at its June 5, 2015 meeting in Vienna, oil prices should likely continue their descent that began in early May (Figure 1). Prices may fall into the $50+ per barrel range since there is no tangible reason for their rise from January’s $46 low.

EIA and Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc./Oilprice.comFigure 1. Brent crude oil spot price May 1- June 1, 2015

Saudi Arabia’s longer view of demand and market share dominated the decision not to cut.

World oil production has undergone a structural shift from supply dominated by relatively inexpensive conventional production to increasingly more supply coming from expensive deep-water and unconventional production. Most conventional oil is located in the Arabian, Siberian and North Caspian basins (Figure 2) while deep-water and unconventional production is focused along the margins of the Atlantic Ocean and in North America.

UCGS/Oilprice.comFigure 2. Location map showing Arabian, Siberian and North Caspian sedimentary basins

This shift is at the root of the current price conflict between OPEC and North American oil producers. Since 2008, OPEC liquids production has been fairly flat until mid-2014 (Figure 3). Non-OPEC production outside of North America has been flat. Most production growth has occurred in the U.S. and Canada but it is not only from tight oil.

EIA and Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc./Oilprice.comFigure 3. World liquids production since 2008 showing OPEC, non-OPEC minus the U.S. and Canada, and the U.S. and Canada

The competition for OPEC market share is from Canadian oil sands, Gulf of Mexico deep-water and tight oil production. U.S. plus Canadian production has increased 6.2 million barrels per day (mmbpd) since January 2008. OPEC production has increased 2 mmbpd over that period with 1.3 mmbpd (65%) of that increase since June 2014.

Lower oil prices over the past year (Figure 4) have not yet resulted in any observable decrease in North American production. Higher prices over the last few months further complicate the situation for OPEC. The global production surplus has gotten worse, not better, in recent months but prices rose based on sentiment.

EIA and Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc./Oilprice.comFigure 4. Crude oil prices since June 2014

It is true that U.S. production may be falling but a 3-month lag in reporting prevents us from seeing this. It is also true that OPEC may have limited capacity to increase their production further although Middle East rig counts have never been higher.

The only way for OPEC to significantly increase its market share is to undermine North American expensive oil production with low oil prices for at least another 6 months. This is why a production cut at this time made little sense to them.

This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

More from Oilprice.com:

MONEY Gas

Gas Prices Have Probably Peaked for the Year

150601_EM_GasPrices
Win McNamee—Getty Images Heavy Memorial Day traffic moves southbound and northbound along I-95 May 22, 2015 in Quantico, Virginia.

A price break is arriving in time for summer.

Unless you live in California, where gas prices have remained stubbornly high compared with the rest of the country, you probably aren’t agitated by how expensive it is to fill up the tank. That’s because, at least relatively speaking, it isn’t expensive. A gallon of regular gasoline is currently averaging $2.75 nationwide, about 90¢ cheaper than it was a year ago at this time.

Still, prices have increased for much of 2015—again, especially in California and the West Coast—with prices rising an average of 71¢ nationally since January. Prices inched up nearly every day in May.

According to AAA, however, this upward trend in gas prices has just about reached the end of the road. “There is a good chance that average U.S. gas prices will drop soon due to stabilizing crude oil costs and as refineries complete seasonal maintenance, which would result in the cheapest summertime gas prices since 2009,” a release from AAA states. “Gas prices often drop or remain flat in June as refineries complete seasonal maintenance and gear up production for the busy summer driving season. Gas prices have declined by an average of 12 cents per gallon in June over the past five years. This production trend likely will continue this year, which means gasoline supplies could soon grow even more plentiful.”

The forecast from AAA jibes with the longer-term report released last week by OPEC, which indicates that gas prices will remain low at least until around 2017.

If AAA’s analysis holds up, gas prices may have already hit their high for all of 2015, and gas prices for the Fourth of July holiday and prime summer road trip season will be even cheaper than Memorial Day 2015—which was the cheapest Memorial Day weekend for gas since 2009.

MONEY Gas

Low Gas Prices Expected Until at Least 2017

OPEC doesn't plan to cut production.

OPEC’s long-term strategy report, shown to Reuters in advance of a June summit, shows the 12-nation cartel thinks no one plans to slow oil production. With the cost of a barrel of oil about half what it was last year, that’s good news for drivers who can expect low gas prices until at least 2017.

TIME Environment

See a Massive Oil Slick in the Pacific Ocean After Spill

21,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Pacific Ocean off the Santa Barbara County coast on Tuesday after an underground pipeline ruptured. The oil slick spread to at least 9 miles long by Wednesday afternoon

TIME Middle East

These 5 Facts Explain the Troubled U.S.-Arab Relationship

Obama Hosts Gulf Cooperation Council Summit at Camp David
Kevin Dietsch—AP Obama encourages Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah to make a statement alongside Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, following the Gulf Cooperation Council-U.S. summit at Camp David on May 14, 2015.

A summit in Camp David shows the growing gap between the U.S. and its Arab allies, thanks to changing oil politics and aging leaders

President Barack Obama just concluded a two day summit with America’s Arab allies. The meeting wrapped up a rocky week that started when Saudi Arabia’s King Salman publicly withdrew from the summit and sent his son and his young nephew in his place. These 5 stats explain the tense relationship between the U.S. and its Persian Gulf allies, and the challenges those alliances will face going forward.

1. It’s the Oil, Stupid.

Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia comprise the grouping of monarchies in the Persian Gulf known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). They are all major oil producers, with Saudi Arabia the heavyweight of the lot. Together they account for 24% of the world’s crude oil production. But after decades of critical dependence on their oil, America, thanks largely to the mid-2000s shale boom, has surpassed Saudi Arabia and Russia to lead the world in oil production. The GCC has felt this acutely—Saudi Arabia saw its oil exports to the US plummet 23.74% between 2008 and 2014. The Saudis are not content to take this lying down. Riyadh is busy ramping up its own production (achieving a record high of 10.3 million barrels per day this past April) in an effort to drive down oil and price more expensive U.S. shale producers out of the global market.

(Middle East Monitor, Bloomberg, Energy Information Administration, Financial Times)

2. The Paradox of Plenty

While Saudis are increasing production largely to strengthen their long-term market position, the gambit poses significant short-term risks. Oil prices had already been tumbling for months, and the price of oil directly affects economies like that are heavily reliant upon the commodity. 45% of Saudi Arabia’s GDP comes directly from oil and gas, 40% of the UAE’s, and around 50-60% each for Qatar, Kuwait and Oman. By keeping production high, Saudi Arabia is helping to keep oil prices low.

Economists often talk about the “resource curse,” when a country’s abundance of natural resources stunts the rest of its economy. In a healthy and balanced economy, the private sector should drive research, development and innovation. But only 20% of Bahraini nationals work in the private sector. The rest of the GCC are worse: a pitiful 0.5% of UAE nationals have the misfortune of private employment. The GCC countries have relied so long on oil that their workforces can’t compete in a globalized world. The ruling powers are keenly aware of this fact.

(Forbes, OPEC – UAE, OPEC – Qatar, OPEC – Kuwait, EIA, Al Jazeera)

3. Arab Spring, Still Blooming?

The GCC countries had a front-row seat to the Arab Spring. Beginning in 2011, countries throughout the Arab World erupted in demonstrations and protests, even bleeding into Bahrain and Kuwait. One of the main drivers of the movement was mass unemployment, which afflicts the affluent GCC as well. Ernst & Young estimates that unaddressed unemployment of youths aged 20-24 could eventually reach 40% across GCC member states. Those are numbers ripe for revolution.

The only thing scarier than the uprisings to the Gulf monarchs must have been the U.S. response to them. For years the understanding was that so long as the Gulf countries would keep the world market flush with oil, the U.S. would provide them with protection. Egypt had a variation of this type of relationship with Washington, but Obama wasted little time in throwing Hosni Mubarak under the bus in 2011—at least as the GCC see it. If Egypt could be sacrificed at the altar of democracy, why couldn’t Saudi Arabia be next?

(Bloomberg, Ernst & Young)

4. The Threat of Iran

Looming over the GCC Summit is America’s reengagement with Iran. Washington’s greatest leverage over Tehran is the possibility of lifting sanctions in exchange for a nuclear deal. Experts estimate that Iran’s economy could grow anywhere from 2% to 5% in the first year after lifting sanctions, and then 7-8% the following 18 months. Those are rates on par with the remarkable growth of the ‘Asian Tigers’ in the 1990s.

It’s not just the additional economic competition that worries the GCC. Saudi Arabia has spent the better part of the last decade combatting Iran’s influence across Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, even Bahrain—the end of sanctions would give Tehran additional financing to escalate the regional rivalry. Further destabilizing the region are serious threats posed by groups like ISIS. This is why the GCC sought a formal, Japan-style security alliance with the U.S. The leaders who showed up in Washington couldn’t get the pact they wanted—a treaty requiring Congressional approval is a nonstarter—but they did get assurances of America’s continued military support and significant arms sales.

(Financial Times, Vox, Reuters, Economist)

5. Age Matters

The absence of the Saudi king, along with his counterparts from the UAE, Bahrain and Oman, sent the message that the status quo in the Middle East cannot continue. Their snub of Obama was intended to project an image of strength in the region. But the reality is that the oil-dependent GCC countries have serious structural problems that will take generations to solve. Instead of dealing with four rulers with an average age of 75, Obama sat across from representatives with an average age of 56. This younger generation is poised to lead their countries for decades to come. After 70 years of intense engagement, it is clear that the GCC countries need America as much as ever. The question is how much America needs them.

(Crown Prince Court – UAE, Kingdom of Bahrain (a), Kingdom of Bahrain (b) AlJazeera, Reuters, BBC, Forbes, Al-Monitor, White House )

TIME China

China Has Become the World’s Biggest Crude Oil Importer for the First Time

Holiday travel rush congests roads in Chinese cities
Feng lei—Imaginechina/AP Masses of vehicles move slowly during a traffic jam near the entrance to Lianhuo (Lianyungang-Khorgos) Expressway during the Labor Day holiday in Zhengzhou city, central China's Henan province, 1 May 2015.

The news reflects both China's soaring energy consumption and America's shale revolution

China is now the largest importer of crude oil in the world. In April, it surpassed the U.S., which has traditionally held the slot, with imports of 7.4 million barrels per day (bpd) or 200,000 more than the U.S., according to the Financial Times.

The news comes as a surprise because the Chinese economy has been slowing and just this weekend, in an effort to stimulate growth, the People’s Bank of China cut interest rates for the third time in 6 months.

Over the next few months, the U.S. and China may be in and out of the top spot, but because American imports dropped by about 3 million bpd in the last decade (thanks in large part to shale extractions) and because China’s purchases have boosted seven-fold, the Chinese should be the top crude oil importer on a long term basis.

China overtook the United States as the world’s top energy consumer in 2010 and is already the number one purchaser of many commodities, such as coal, iron ore and most metals.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com