Melting permafrost caused a fuel tank holding 21,000 tons of diesel oil to collapse in Russia’s Arctic Circle, leading to a 135-square mile oil spill.
According to Rosprirodnadzor, the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources, 6,000 tons spilled onto the ground, another 15,000 tons into the water. Oil products got into the Ambarnaya and Daldykan rivers and in almost all their tributaries.
The spill occurred in the city of Norilsk, Russia, at a power plant operated by Norilsk-Taimyr Energy Co., a subsidiary of Nornickel. The town is located above the Arctic Circle in Russia’s far North.
An emergency situation has been declared, the company said on its website. Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to introduce a federal-level emergency regime because of the spill after the Minister of Emergency Situations Yevgeny Zinichev suggested it.
Greenpeace has already called the spill the first accident of such a large scale in the Arctic. The organization believes that damage to water bodies alone from a diesel spill in Norilsk could amount to more than $85 million.
A diesel fuel storage tank failed when the permafrost it was built on began to soften. As a result of damage to the tank, fuel spilled onto the roadway and a passing car caught fire.
“The accident was caused by a sudden sinking of supporting posts in the basement of the storage tank,” the company said in a statement.
The leaking diesel oil had extended as far as 7 miles from the accident site and turned long stretches of the Ambarnaya bright red.
In Russia, diesel is dyed red if it’s used for heating of buildings and structures. Red diesel is usually pumped into special storage tanks and subsequently consumed as an energy source.
Zinichev told Putin that the Norilsk plant had spent two days trying to contain the spill before alerting his ministry. The region’s governor, Alexander Uss, had told Putin that he became aware of the oil spill on Sunday only after “alarming information appeared in social media”.
According to Russian media, the liquidation team has already cleaned about 53,000 cubic feet of soil at the site of the diesel fuel spill in Norilsk and pumped out 201 tons of fuel. More than 130 tons were removed from the Ambarnaya river.
Nornickel is the world’s leading producer of nickel and palladium producer. Palladium is a rare metal used to make catalytic converters.
One of the company’s key co-owners is Vladimir Potanin who was listed as the richest man in Russia with the fortune of $25 billion. The billionaire has lost $1.5 billion due to the consequences of the accident, according to Forbes’ Real-Time Billionaires ranking.
The Investigative Committee of Russia has opened a criminal case of negligence due to untimely reporting of an accident near Norilsk, according to the agency’s website. Who or what, exactly, the criminal case has been opened on was not specified. Russian authorities have already arrested the head of one of the units of a thermal power plant.
As global warming has raised temperatures, especially in Arctic latitudes, melting permafrost has become a major problem. In many colder areas buildings and structures are built on permafrost which can be as hard – and had been as permanent – as concrete.
That has begun to change with warming temperatures, causing damage to buildings and changing
Source: USA TODAY Research; Google Earth; Planet Labs Inc.; Associated Press/RU-RTR/Kremlin; https://twitter.com/leongard/status/1268059232856936448
Jessica Boller, Shawn Sullivan, and Javier Zarracina contributed to this story.