Putin declares the emergency for the great Arctic oil spill

A large diesel spill in the Ambarnaya River, outside the Russian city of Norilsk, on Wednesday.

An environmental group has described the damage as “catastrophic” and the concentration of contaminants in nearby waters has already exceeded the permitted levels tens of thousands of times, according to the Russian environmental agency Rosprirodnadzor.

Plant employees originally attempted to contain the spill on their own and did not report the incident to the emergency services for two days, said the head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations Evgeny Zinichev during a Wednesday meeting chaired by Putin and shown on national television.

“So, are we going to learn about social media emergencies now? Are you okay over there?” Putin said, reprimanding Krasnoyarsk governor Alexander Uss and executives of the Norilsk-Taimyr Energy Company, which runs the station, for a delayed response after local authorities learned of the leak from social media.

The investigative committee, Russia’s main enforcement body, said Tuesday that a criminal investigation has been launched into 20,000 tons of diesel fuel spilling into a Norilsk river following “unexplained decompression” of a storage tank.

Thawing permafrost?

Nornickel, the parent company of the energy company, said that the foundation of the storage tank could sink due to the thawing of the permafrost, highlighting the dangers that increasingly frequent heating poses to Arctic infrastructures and ecosystems, according to the state news agency Russian TAX.

“Right now we can assume … that due to the abnormally mild summer temperatures recorded in past years, the permafrost could have melted and that the pillars under the platform could have sunk,” said Nornickel chief operating officer Sergey Dyachenko according to the daily news agency fact.

Northern Asia, particularly above the Arctic circle in Siberia, has seen the most normal temperatures on the planet so far in 2020. During the first four months of the year, the region has seen temperatures of over 4 degrees Celsius above the average on average.

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The Arctic region is warming, on average, twice as fast as the rest of the planet, as a result of global warming, scientists say.

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Local authorities said the spill could take weeks to begin sanitation as the region has no experience in using these quantities of fuel, the river is not navigable and there are no roads around it. Other expert groups are deployed from other regions following the state of emergency.

“The accident has led to catastrophic consequences and we will see the repercussions for years to come,” said Sergey Verkhovets, Arctic project coordinator of the Russian WWF branch. “We are talking about dead fish, polluted plumages of birds and poisoned animals.”

Norilsk has historically been among the most polluted cities in the world. Second a 2018 NASA study based on satellite data, Norilsk tops the list for the worst sulfur dioxide pollution, wasting 1.9 million tons of gas on the Arctic tundra.

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