Russia claims to have contained huge oil spill after Arctic river turns red

Vladimir Putin chastises billionaire owner of power plant for negligence

Samuel Osborne
Friday 05 June 2020 19:58
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Over 20,000 tons of diesel oil spilled into the Ambarnaya River
Over 20,000 tons of diesel oil spilled into the Ambarnaya River

Russia has contained a massive fuel spill that turned a river red and inflicted untold damage on a fragile Arctic region.

More than 20,000 tons of diesel oil spilled into the Ambarnaya River from a broken tank at a power plant in Norilsk, 1,800 miles from Moscow, last Friday.

Greenpeace has compared the scale of the accident to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

Booms were laid across the river to prevent the oil from flowing into a lake downstream that feeds another river leading to the environmentally delicate Arctic Ocean.

“We have stopped the spread of the petroleum products,” a spokesperson for the taskforce in charge of cleaning up the accident told the Agence France-Presse news agency on Friday. ”They are contained in all directions, they are not going anywhere now.”

Image captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on Saturday, 31 May, shows the extent of the oil spill, in red, near the power plant

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, chastised the billionaire owner of the plant for negligence on Friday.

Earlier this week, Mr Putin declared a state of emergency in the region to limit the consequences of the spill.

The plant is operated by a division of Norilsk Nickel, which owns several other giant plants in the area that have made Norilsk one of the most heavily polluted places on Earth.

An investigation has been launched into the cause of the accident as well as local officials’ failure to quickly report it to federal authorities.

The company said melting permafrost may have triggered the accident.

During a call with officials and environmental experts on Friday, Mr Putin lashed out at Norilsk Nickel owner Vladimir Potanin, saying it was his company’s responsibility to check the fuel tanks’ condition.

“There wouldn’t have been the damage to the environment if you replaced them in time,” Mr Putin told Mr Potanin, who is Russia’s richest man with an estimated fortune of $25.5bn, according to Forbes magazine.

Mr Potanin said his company will pay for the cleanup efforts, which he estimated at 10bn rubles (£115m) and will also stand ready to pay fines for damage to the environment.

It came as reports emerged that a Russian safety watchdog warned the Norlisk Nickel subsidiary about dozens of violations.

The safety watch dog, Rostekhnadzor, carried out three major spot checks in 2017-2018 at the power station and found an array of violations, including ones concerning fuel tanks at the site, the RBC media portal reported.

The station was found, among other violations, to have failed to clean rust off the walls and roofs of some of its fuel tanks as it had been instructed to do by authorities years earlier, it said.

Norilsk Nickel said such violations had not been identified at the fuel tank that spilled, the media portal reported.

Additional reporting by agencies

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