Days later, regional officials finally acknowledge massive fuel spill in the Russian Arctic
Regional leaders from Russia’s Krasnoyarsk Krai were subject to a lecture from President Vladimir Putin for their slow response to a massive diesel spill at a combined heat and power plant (CHP) in the Arctic city of Norilsk.
The accident took place on May 29, at a plant belonging to the Norilsk-Taimyr Energy Company. A reservoir sustained damage after one of its supports suddenly began to collapse, causing depressurization, which led to a fuel spill and a fire. A total of 20,000 tons of fuel spread into the soil in the surrounding area, spilling over into nearby rivers.
According to data from Russia’s regulatory agency for natural resources, Rosprirodnadzor, after the accident bodies of water more than 20 kilometers from the site contained concentrations of petroleum products that were tens of thousands of times higher than the maximum permissible limit. The environmental NGO Greenpeace has called it one of the largest fuel spills in the history of the Arctic, drawing comparisons to the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989.
The authorities responded to the situation two days later, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Alexander Uss admitted during a conversation with Putin on June 3. According to the governor, experts had assured the local authorities that there was no danger of pollution. He claims that officials “only became aware of the real picture” on May 31, “after the appearance of alarming information on social networks and persistent questions.” During the video conference, the Head of Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry (MChS), Evgeny Zinichev, confirmed that his department did not find out about the accident until May 31.
Governor Uss also said that he could not make predictions about how long cleanup might take. “What exactly will be done? You’re the governor, after all!” Putin said in response.
Following the video conference, Putin instructed law enforcement agencies to clarify why information about the accident came through so late, and approved the idea of declaring an emergency situation in the region at the federal level.
Shortly afterwards, the Russian Investigative Committee announced that its central office will be investigating the causes and consequences of the fuel spill. Officials have also launched criminal proceedings in connection with the accident — for damage to land, water pollution, and workplace violations of environmental protection regulations — and detained the supervisor on duty at the site at the time of the spill as a suspect.
The Krasnoyarsk Krai declared a federal level emergency situation later that evening.
Translation by Eilish Hart