MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Russian official outrage at yet another Norilsk Nickel spill

Published by MAC on 2020-06-06
Source: New York Times

Russia Declares Emergency After Arctic Oil Spill

By Ivan Nechepurenko

Ne York Times

4 June 2020

MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has declared a state of
emergency in a region in northern Siberia after a huge oil spill turned
a river crimson and threatened to inflict significant damage to the
Arctic environment.

More than 20,000 tons of diesel leaked into the Ambarnaya River near the
city of Norilsk last Friday, after a fuel tank collapsed at a power
plant. Norilsk Nickel, which owns the plant, said in a statement that
thawing permafrost had caused one of the tank’s pillars to collapse. The
oil leaked more than seven miles from the site.

The accident is one of the biggest oil spills in modern Russian history,
Aleksei Knizhnikov of the environmentalist group WWF Russia said. In a
statement, Greenpeace Russia compared the discharge to the Exxon Valdez
tanker spill in Alaska in 1989.

The Russian Investigative Committee opened a criminal inquiry and
detained the plant’s manager, Vyacheslav Starostin.

Mr. Putin said he had been angered that he had learned of the spill only
on Sunday, and, after declaring the state of emergency on Wednesday,
denounced company officials in a videoconference that was broadcast live.

“Why did government agencies only find out about this two days after the
fact?” Mr. Putin said. “Are we going to learn about emergency situations
from social media?”

Mr. Putin said he would ask investigators to look into the spill to make
a clear assessment of how officials reacted to the accident.

Norilsk Nickel is the world’s largest producer of platinum and nickel,
and the company is no stranger to environmental disasters. It was
responsible for a “blood river,” also in Siberia, in 2016, and one of
its plants has belched so much sulfur dioxide, a major cause of acid
rain, that it is surrounded by a dead zone of tree trunks and mud about
twice the size of Rhode Island.

The company, along with the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry,
dispatched hundreds of personnel to clean up the mess. So far, Norilsk
Nickel said, they had managed to gather up only around 340 tons of the oil.

Special containment booms were installed in the Ambarnaya River in an
effort to prevent the spill from entering the nearby Lake Pyasino and
after that the Kara Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean.

Elena Panova, the Russian deputy minister of national resources and the
environment, said on Thursday during an online news conference that it
would take at least 10 years for the local ecosystem to recover, echoing
the sentiments of Russian environmentalists.

“The incident led to catastrophic consequences, and we will be seeing
the repercussions for years to come,” Sergey Verkhovets, coordinator of
Arctic projects for WWF Russia, said in a statement. “We are talking
about dead fish, polluted plumage of birds and poisoned animals.”

The spill prompted memories of a giant leak of oil in the Komi region of
the Russian Arctic in 1994. In that accident, a ruptured pipeline
spilled at least two million barrels of hot oil, soaking the fragile
permafrost.

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