By Sarah Bates
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2708

Arctic oil spill means environmental catastrophe

This article is over 3 years, 11 months old
Issue 2708
Russian president Vladimir Putin held a meeting with officials about the spill
Russian president Vladimir Putin held a meeting with officials about the spill (Pic: President of Russia)

An ecological crisis has exploded in the Arctic after a gigantic oil spill that turned two rivers crimson has caused “catastrophic” damage.

Some 20,000 tonnes of red diesel leaked from a fuel tank at a power plant in Russia. Striking images show over seven miles of contaminated waters.

“The incident led to catastrophic consequences and we will be seeing the repercussions for years to come,” said Sergey Verkhovets, coordinator of Arctic projects at World Wildlife Fund Russia.

“We are talking about dead fish, polluted plumage of birds, and poisoned animals.”

Some environmentalists say the disaster is comparable to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, when tens of thousands of tonnes of oil leaked off the coast of Alaska.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has ordered a state of emergency in the Siberian city of Norilsk.

The catastrophe began at the nearby power station, which is owned by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, the world’s leading nickel and palladium producer.

The firm didn’t report the spill to emergency services for two days, as it attempted to contain the spill on its own.


A criminal investigation has been launched into the circumstances surrounding the spill and Norilsk Nickel’s response to it.

Local authorities say it will be difficult to clean the spill because there are few access roads near the river.

The power plant’s director has been taken into custody, and the Russian Investigative Committee has launched a criminal case over the pollution and alleged negligence.

Capitalism—a system rigged for oil
Capitalism—a system rigged for oil
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The company said it’s possible that the storage tank sank because warmer temperatures melted the permafrost.

“Right now we can assume that due to abnormally mild summer temperatures recorded in the past years, permafrost could have melted and the pillars under the platform could have sunk,” said Sergey Dyachenko, Norilsk Nickel’s chief operating officer.

The Arctic is warming, on average, twice as fast as the rest of the planet. In the first four months of 2020, the region has been more than 4 degrees centigrade above the average.

Global warming is driven by the industrial burning of fossil fuels, which causes the atmosphere and oceans to warm up.

Norilsk is already one of the world’s most polluted cities. A Nasa study, published in 2018, shows that the city had the worst sulphur dioxide pollution, and emitted 1.9 million tones of the gas over the Arctic tundra.

Norilsk Nickel has form for this kind of environmentally destructive behaviour. In 2016, the firm admitted that heavy rains caused a dam to overflow, turning the Daldykan river red.

The chaos in Norilsk is shaped by climate catastrophe and the profiteering interests of private companies.

It underlines the importance of tackling not just ecological crises, but the bosses and their system that produce them.



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