Russian Oil Spill in Arctic Circle Could Take Years To Clean Up

by Daanyal Raja

On May 29th, more than 21,000 tonnes of fuel was released due to a fuel reservoir collapse in Russia’s Arctic region, becoming the largest oil spill to have ever hit the Arctic. The power plant with the collapsed reservoir, a subsidiary of metal giant Norilsk Nickel, had their director of the power station as well as two engineers detained on suspicion of violating strict environmental protection rules. If convicted, the three employees could face up to five years in prison. Worse yet, many Siberian officials have stated that the clean up process will take years.

In a statement, Norilsk Nickel stated that the allegations against their employees are “unjustifiably harsh” and stated that all three of the detained men are “cooperating with law enforcement authorities [but] that they would be more useful at the scene of the clean-up operation”. Investigators said that the power plant’s fuel storage required major repairs since 2018, but the suspects involved “continued to use it in breach of safety rules”. Transneft Siberia, an oil and gas transportation company that is involved in the spill clean-up, claimed that the situation was slowly stabilising, but many members on the clean-up team had witnessed birds and other animals being killed by the spilled oil. Viktor Bronnikov, the general director of Transneft Siberia, told the Guardian,“If a bird lands on the diesel fuel or a muskrat swims through it, it is condemned to death”. Bronnikov then told the Guardian, “We will be removing diesel fuel from the Ambarnaya River for at least eight to 10 days,” Bronnikov said. “We will need years to completely clean up.”

Vladimir Potanin, the man who heads Norilsk Nickel, said that the company will pay approximately $146 million after Russian president Vladimir Putin backed a state of emergency due to the oil spill. The company stated that the fuel reservoir was built in 1985 and was repaired in 2017 and 2018 before going through a safety audit. Many local officials have stated that despite efforts to stop the fuel leak from spreading within the river, it has reached a freshwater lake which is a major water source for the region. The pollution could flow into the Kara Sea in the Arctic Ocean near Siberia, which worries Greenpeace Russia expert Vladimir Chuprov, as he told AFP that would be “a disaster.”