Oil spill in Russia’s Arctic region

Context

  • Russia declared a state of emergency, five days after a power plant fuel leak in its Arctic region caused 20,000 tonnes of diesel oil to escape into a local river, turning its surface crimson red.
  • The Ambarnaya river, into which the oil has been discharged, is part of a network that flows into the environmentally sensitive Arctic Ocean.
  • The state-owned TASS news agency reported that the emergency measures were announced within Russia’s Krasnoyarsk Region, located in the vast and sparsely populated Siberian peninsula. The power plant is located near the Region’s Norilsk city, around 3000 km northeast of Moscow.

How did the leak happen?

  • The thermoelectric power plant at Norilsk is built on permafrost, which has weakened over the years owing to climate change. This caused the pillars that supported the plant’s fuel tank to sink., leading to a loss of containment on May 29. Reports said that around 20,000 tonnes of diesel oil was released into the Ambarnaya river, which has since drifted 12 km on its surface.
  • The conglomerate, which is the world’s leading nickel and palladium producer, has also been blamed for another leak in 2016, when pollutants from its plant leaked into another river in the region.

What is the extent of the damage?

  • Environmentalists have said the river would be difficult to clean, given its shallow waters and remote location, as well as the magnitude of the spill.
  • A World Wildlife Fund speaking to the AFP news agency described this as the second-largest known oil leak in modern Russia’s history in terms of volume.
  • The Russian chapter of activist group Greenpeace said damages to the Arctic waterways could be at least 6 billion rubles (over $76 million), and has compared the incident to Alaska’s 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.
  • Its estimate does not include atmospheric damage due to greenhouse gases and soil pollution. In a statement, the NGO said, “The installed buoys will only help collect a small part of the pollution, leading us to say that nearly all the diesel fuel will remain in the environment.”

Source: Indian Express