RUSSIA INVESTIGATES CAUSES OF MAJOR OIL SPILL IN ARCTIC CIRCLE
On June 11, the Russian government charged the mayor of Norilsk, a remote Arctic city, with criminal negligence over a bungled response to a major oil spill (Reuters). On May 29, a fuel tank at a power station in Norilsk lost pressure and collapsed, leaking more than 20,000 tons of diesel into rivers and subsoil. Greenpeace Russia compared the incident to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill (New York Times).
Norilsk is built around Norilsk Nickel, the company responsible for the oil spill and the world’s leading nickel and palladium producer. On June 10, Russian investigators detained three managers of the Norilsk Nickel power station, claiming they had used an unsafe storage tank that had needed major repairs since 2018 (Reuters). Meanwhile, Norilsk Nickel has stated that the accident was due to melting permafrost that had weakened the foundations of the storage tank (Reuters).
About 55% of Russia’s territory contains permafrost. This includes Siberia, which houses many of the country’s main oil and gas fields. A 2017 report by the Arctic Council found that due to climate change, foundations in permafrost regions can no longer bear the loads they did as recently as the 1980s (BBC). An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released last year on oceans and the cryosphere also noted that changes in permafrost threaten the “structural stability and functional capacities” of oil industry infrastructure (Bloomberg). The oil spill "will have a negative effect on the water resources, on the animals that drink that water, on the plants growing on the banks," said Vasily Yablokov of Greenpeace Russia (BBC).