Russian Arctic Rivers Run Red, Causing a State of Emergency

Russia had announced it has stopped the spread of the petroleum products that caused its arctic rivers to run red.
Fabienne Lang
Russian river turns redThe Siberian Times/Twitter

EDIT: Russia has successfully contained the massive diesel spill that made its Arctic rivers run red, a spokeswoman for the emergencies ministry told AFP on Friday.

"We have stopped the spread of the petroleum products," the spokeswoman said. "They are contained in all directions, they are not going anywhere now."

The Siberian city of Norilsk, in Russia, and its surrounding area, encountered a surprising phenomenon this week after a fuel tank at a power plant leaked 20,000 tons of oil into rivers, turning it bright red. 

The Arctic Circle region has now been declared in a state of emergency by Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

The plant is owned by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, which is the world's leading producer of nickel and palladium. 


Slow response time

Striking images of two rivers, the Ambarnaya and Daldykan, taken from above look like they belong in a murder mystery movie. Instead of clear water running between their banks, you see blood red veins of water swooshing through. 

The visions of these rivers are so bright that they're visible from satellite images taken by Russia's version of Google Maps, Yandex Maps

The main issue is potential environmental longterm harm to the area. 

President Putin criticized regional authorities for not acting sooner, as the state of emergency was only declared two days after the incident. "Why did government agencies only find out about this two days after the fact?" he asked the subsidiary's chief, Sergei Lipin. "Are we going to learn about emergency situations from social media?

Alexander Uss, governor of the Krasnoyarsk region, a huge Siberian territory in which Norilsk lies, had just told Putin he had only found out about the leak via social media two days after the event occurred. 

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which has been helping on the matter, said that on Wednesday that workers had now managed to stop any more oil from leaking into the rivers using barriers. However, as Aleksey Knizhnikov, WWF Russia's director for environmentally responsible business, explained in a post that the most toxic components of diesel fuel dissolve easily in water, so barriers wouldn't be enough to stop the huge environmental impact this spill will have. 

"The consequences of such accidents, especially in the north, reverberate for a long time. It means the death of fish, the contamination of birds' feathers, and the poisoning of animals," Sergey Verkhovets, WWF Russia's coordinator for arctic projects, said in a separate statement.

A hundred tons of fuel have already been removed from the area, and 100 extra emergency workers will be arriving in the region on Thursday to further assist the clean up operations.