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.”
By Ritvik Dutta
On Wednesday, eleven investors owning about 1.35% of Total SA’s capital increased pressure on the French Oil Company, stating that the current efforts to comply under the Paris Agreement were inadequate. The investors pushed for the company to alter their business plans to focus more on the reduction of carbon emissions. Although efforts were made in the past to attenuate greenhouse gas output of their own energy generation, their marketable products remained untouched.
The Paris Agreement was signed into action on November 4, 2016 in order to ensure lower environmental carbon levels in the future. Ratified by the 55 countries that make up the majority of global emissions, the agreement brings most of the polluting countries together to “strengthen the global response.” According to the UNFCC, the main goal of the UN committee that signed the agreement is to minimize as much greenhouse gas damage to the environment as possible and keep the temperature change in this century under “2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.”
Total SA’s investor group led by Meeschaert Asset Management consists of Actiam, Ecofi Investments, Sycomore Asset Management, La Banque Postale Asset Management, and Credit Mutuel Management. Together, they are working on creating a plan that they will present later at the next Total SA shareholder meeting currently scheduled for May 29th. In an interview done by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, an oil campaigner noted that if the plan is indeed implemented by Total SA, there would be a massive change in the oil giant’s business strategy. This huge change would prove to be instrumental during this time period due to the current COVID-19 outbreak. Demand for fuel is at an all-time low and the industry as a whole is forced to take drastic measures and institute cost cuts.
The Houston Chronicle reports that a separate organization by the name of Follow This is “delighted that institutional investors have now filed a resolution with the exact same request as ours.” Follow This adds that “Similar resolutions have been proven effective with Shell in 2017 and with BP and Equinor in 2019.” This forced reduction of emissions appeals to work with Total SA as it has in the past with other supergiant oil companies.
Competitors such as BP Plc, Repsol SA. Royal Dutch Shell, and Equinor ASA have all pledged to implement some form of carbon emission reduction, with BP plc and Repsol SA assuring carbon-free emissions by 2050. Total SA reports that since 2010, they have already reduced carbon emissions by 25%, pledging to reduce 40 million tons of carbon emissions by 2025. However, what the future actually entails for Total SA is yet to be seen.
By Saarang Kashyap
The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, one of the largest marine oil spills in history, released over 4,900,000 barrels into the ocean of which only 800,000 were recaptured. Thousands of birds, mammals, and sea turtles were plastered with leaked oil, decreasing their ability to survive and reproduce. Coral larvae, which were initially mobile, attached to mature corals at much-reduced rates and the toxic components of the oil were fatal to rotifers, microorganisms crucial to the gulf food web. There was one positive discovery, however: bacteria in the ocean that had adapted to consuming naturally occurring gas had decreased the extent of the oil spill.
This got scientists thinking about potential bacteria they could use to clean up oil spills, with recent studies pointing to Alcanivorax Borkumensis as the most viable option. According to SpringerLink, “Alcanivorax borkumensis is a marine bacterium that uses exclusively petroleum oil hydrocarbons as sources of carbon and energy.” This means that this species breaks down long chains of crude oil for energy rather than sugars or carbohydrates. This bacterium is normally present at low levels in the ocean and becomes abundant when a source of oil becomes available.
Much like plants, Alcanivorax needs “fertilizer” in nitrogen and phosphorus to grow properly. Fortunately, Alcanivorax Borkumensis is adaptable to the substantial imbalance of nutrients in carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus after oil spills. This bacterium has many transport proteins that allow for the fast uptake of key nutrients from its environment, making it ideal to be used in the tough environment created by oil contamination.
One study highlighting the effectiveness of Alcanivorax involved a research team that purified a few enzymes in the bacteria and used them to treat samples of contaminated soil (ScienceDaily). “The degradation of hydrocarbons using the crude enzyme extract is really encouraging and reached over 80% for various compounds,” said Brar, a professor at INRS who led the study. “The process is effective in removing benzene, toluene, and xylene, and has been tested under a number of different conditions to show that it is a powerful way to clean up polluted land and marine environments.” (Biochemical Engineering Journal)
Through the employment of this novel bacteria, it is plausible that scientists may be able to solve an oil crisis that comes with the mass use and production of fossil fuels. It is only fitting that widespread and large damage to the oceans is solved by something microscopic.