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The Largest Catastrophe in the Arctic: Fuel Spill near Norilsk
June 6, 2020 23:32


The catastrophe near Norilsk could become the largest oil spill in the Russian Arctic. Estimates of damage reach hundreds of billions of rubles. The accident is compared to the Exxon Valdez tanker that struck a reef in 1989.

The accident at TPP-3 of the Norilsk-Taimyr energy company (NTEC, a subsidiary of MMC Norilsk Nickel) happened on May 29. Due to subsidence of the foundation piles, one of the tanks was depressurized, and diesel fuel spilled onto the carriageway of the technological road.

In total, about 21,000 tons of oil products spilled,  and 6,000 of them fell into the ground, while the rest into the Ambarnaya River and its tributary Daldykan  flowing into the large lake Pyasino.  And the Pyasina River flows from the lake into the Kara Sea.

The total area of ​​pollution, according to the Krasnoyarsk prosecutor's office, amounted to 180,000 square meters. The maximum permissible concentrations of pollutants in rivers where diesel fuel has been exceeded are tens of thousands of times. The accident in Norilsk could become the largest known spill of oil products in the Russian Arctic, Kommersant writes. Greenpeace ecologists compared the scale of the disaster with the Exxon Valdez tanker accident in Alaska in 1989 (then about 35,000 tons of oil spilled into the sea). According to them, the damage could exceed 6 billion rubles.

Authorities intervened in the situation only two days after the accident. On June 3, Governor Alexander Uss reported to Vladimir Putin that officials learned the real picture of the incident only  "after the appearance of disturbing information on social networks." Prior to this, according to him, the company  assured that there was no environmental damage.

The head of the Ministry of Emergencies, Yevgeny Zinichev,  also said that the department learned about the emergency only on May 31 - before that, according to him, NTEC was trying to cope on its own.

On the same day, the Norilsk Nickel press service reported that NTEC informed about the incident “in a timely and proper manner”. According to the company, the first message about the leak came on May 29 at 12:55 (08:55 Moscow time) from the dispatcher, at 13:08 the information was transmitted to the Unified Dispatch Office of the Siberian energy system, at 13:10 - to the Unified Dispatch Duty Service of the Office for affairs of civil defense and emergency of the administration of Norilsk. In Moscow,
the Ministry of Energy learned about the state of emergency in half an hour - at 09:20 Moscow time. On Saturday, May 30, according to Kommersant, no official messages were sent. On May 31, NTEC sent four reports to the Unified Emergency Situations Service of the Ministry of Emergencies, including a certificate of measures taken to eliminate the consequences of the accident. On June 1, they sent the accident response plan to the Ministry of Energy and EDDS. The company sent copies of these messages to law enforcement agencies.

At the same time,  the first news about the emergency
on the Norilsk Nickel website was dated May 31. Rumors of an environmental disaster began to be discussed on June 2 in the local Typical Norilsk group (more than 50,000 followers). The causes of the accident are being investigated. Norilsk Nickel said that before the accident, the tank supports had served without complaints for more than 30 years, inspections were carried out every two years. The company considers warming to be the likely cause of the incident.

The main question is what to do with spilled fuel. The river  is not navigable.
Norilsk Nickel reported that it had found the necessary containers for collecting and preserving fuel and  delivered them to Norilsk. On June 4, UC Rusal (one of the largest shareholders of Norilsk Nickel with a share of 27.8%) said it had initiated an extraordinary meeting of the board of directors due to the situation in Norilsk.  The prosecutor's office instituted criminal proceedings under the articles "damage to the land", "violation of the rules of environmental protection in the performance of work" and "water pollution". Shares of Norilsk Nickel on the Moscow Exchange on Thursday fell by more than 9%. 

Author: Anna Dorozhkina

Tags: Norilsk Norilsk Nickel Russian Arctic   

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