A 20,000-ton diesel fuel spill in the Arctic Circle has prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to declare a state of emergency.
“The accident took place at the industrial site of the Nadezhdinski Metallurgical Plant, and part of the spilled petrochemicals, a considerable amount actually, seeped into the Ambarnaya River,” Putin told his officials.
The oil came from a ruptured fuel tank at a power plant in Norlisk, Siberia, the BBC reports. The director of the power plant, Vyacheslav Starostin, has been arrested and may face negligence charges. There is concern that Starostin waited a full two days before contacting authorities about the spill, which had by then covered at least 7.5 miles of the Ambarnaya river an unsettling shade of red.
Putin admonished the power plant’s leadership in a televised response to the incident.
“Why did government agencies only find out about this two days after the fact?” he asked a chief of the organization, Sergei Lipin. “Are we going to learn about emergency situations from social media?”
Putin was not speaking in jest. It wasn’t until seeing headlines on social media that regional governor Alexander Uss learned about the spill.
“What are we to learn about emergency situations from social networks? Are you alright health wise over there?” Putin asked.
The power plant is owned by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, the largest producer of palladium in the world and a major producer of refined nickel, platinum and copper.
One possible cause of the leaking fuel tank is the melting permafrost on which the power plant was built on. As Arctic Circle Ice continues to recede, the once-frozen earth below has softened up. This can lead to failing foundations and support structures built above ground. Norilsk Nickel maintains “the accident was caused by a sudden sinking of supporting posts in the basement of the storage tank.”
According to the company’s website, emergency teams “immediately arrived to the site to start clean up works,” and that local communities had been impacted.
“A regional emergency situation has been declared in the city of Norilsk and Taymir region. An emergency response team has been set up chaired by the city mayor of Norilsk,” the company said, “In total, Norilsk Nickel has mobilized 250 personnel and 72 equipment items to work on the liquidation. As of June 3, a total of 262 tons of diesel fuel has been collected near HHP-3 (the power plant), a total of 800 cubic meters of contaminated soil has been removed and approximately 80 tons of fuel has been collected from the spill to Ambarnaya river.”
According to CNBC, the state of emergency allows Putin to direct extra military forces to the area to help clean up the spill, possibly the second largest in the country’s history. But despite a strong start on clean-up, environmentalists are warning that this spill will take years to remedy.
Oleg Mitvol, former deputy head of Russia’s environmental watchdog Rosprirodnadzor, told the BBC that there had “never been such an accident in the Arctic zone.” Mitvol estimates the clean-up could take up to 10 years and cost at least $1.5 billion.
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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.