Major Diesel Spill in Siberia Floods Into Delicate Arctic Lake

A recent diesel spill in Siberia is now moving into a lake, threatening a fragile Arctic ecosystem.
Brad Bergan

A serious diesel spill from a power plant in Siberia reached a fragile freshwater lake that leads to the Arctic Ocean, according to regional officials, according to an Interfax report.

This comes on the heels of Russia claiming the spill was contained. "We have stopped the spread of the petroleum products," said the Russian spokeswoman to AFP on Friday. "They are contained in all directions, they are not going anywhere now."

In stark contrast, latest developments show this could be the makings of a major ecological catastrophe.


Diesel spill in Siberia threatens arctic lake

Local Krasnoyarsk Territory Governor Alexander Uss told reporters that the spilled fuel had just reached Lake Pyasino —  a delicate ecosystem, according to Gizmodo.

"This is a beautiful lake about 70 kilometers [43 miles] long," said Uss to Interfax. "Naturally, it has both fish and a good biosphere. But it's impossible to predict how it will bear this brunt now."

He added that the focus for the moment is to stop the spilled diesel fuel from reaching Pyasina River, which flows into the Kara Sea in the greater Arctic Ocean — an area that has already been drastically affected by climate change.

How the fuel spill happened

The diesel fuel spill happened at a nearby power plant close to the Siberian city of Norilsk on May 29. One of the power plant's fuel reservoirs sprung a leak after its pillars collapsed, probably due to permafrost below the plant thawing amidst record-levels of environmental warming.

Roughly 20,000 tons of red dye diesel fuel poured out into the Ambarnaya River, which carried the fuel into Lake Pyasino. The accident prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to announce a state of emergency in the affected region, dispatching hundreds of workers who aim to contain the harmful spill.

If left unattended, the oil could contaminate local waterways and a delicate Arctic ecosystem.

The company responsible for the incident — Norlisk Nickel — denies claims from Krasnoyarsk officials that it was their fault. Last week, a spokesperson for the company said the spilled fuel was already contained, according to the AFP. In a Tuesday video conference, Norilsk Nickel officials claimed samples taken from the lake showed "0.0 percent contamination."

Contrary to the company's claim, Krasnoyarsk officials report high concentrations of polluted water throughout areas beyond the floating containment booms in the picture above.

Norilsk Nickel's subpar safety record

Norilsk Nickel has a subpar safety record, which speaks to how the incident may have happened. In the past, the company was accused of using global warming as an excuse not to act in ecological crises. Last week, Greenpeace Russia declared in a statement that the company tried to "avoid liability for the accident" by citing climate change as a reason for the incident.

The statement also said the "company could not be unaware of the risks of [permafrost thawing], therefore, it was obliged to conduct more thorough monitoring of soils and prevent the possible destruction of dangerous infrastructure."

"If you had changed [the fuel tanks] on time, there would have been no environmental damage and no need to foot such costs," said Putin to Vladimir Potanin — Norilsk Nickel's president — in a televised meeting aired last week.

Potanin rebutted that it could cost "billions of rubles" to clean the mess caused by the diesel spill. One billion Russian rubles runs at about $14.5 million, reports Gizmodo.

As of writing, Deutsche Welle reported that Russian investigators have already charged Vyacheslav Starostin — director of the Norilsk power plant — with neglecting and violating environmental protection rules. If he's found guilty, he may face up to five years in prison.

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