Russia has declared a state of emergency due to a gigantic oil spill in the Arctic region of Northern Siberia. The oil spill is a major cause of worry and concern due to the potentially devastating impact it may have on the Arctic environment.
The oil spill that occurred from a plant owned the Russian metals mining giant Norilsk Nickel in late May 2020, has caused more than 20,000 tons of fuel to exude into a neighboring Ambarnaya river turning its surface crimson red. The oil spill was caused due to the collapse of an aging fuel tank at a power plant due to “thawing permafrost” as exclaimed by Norilsk Nickel in a statement.
The thermoelectric power plant was constructed on permafrost that gradually deteriorated as years passed by due to climate change. This caused the fuel tank’s pillars to sink in the surface and the subsequent collapse of the tank.
The Russian authorities, however, aren’t buying this and an Investigative Committee, charged with the task of probing the mishap, blames the laxity of the maintenance department of Norilsk Nickel, pointing out that the company didn’t carry out required repairs on the tank in 2018 during the maintenance period, and instead, continued to use it without paying any heed to the safety regulations.
A representative of the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) also spurned at Norilsk Nickel’s claims about the thawing permafrost and said, “It is an attempt to write off Nornickel’s failure in risk management and ecological safety on the fashionable topic of climate change. The main factor is mismanagement.”
The oil leak has reached over seven miles from the site of the accident, which has lead to environmentalists referring to it as the second-largest oil spill in Russian history. Many have also compared it to the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident of the coast of Alaska. The environmental effects of the oil spill are a serious cause of concern and have made the Russian government anxious, as the Ambarnaya river is part of a network that flows into the environmentally-sensitive Arctic ocean.
“The incident has led to catastrophic consequences and we will be seeing the repercussions for years to come. We are talking about dead fish, polluted plumage of birds, and poisoned animals,” said Sergey Verkhovets, coordinator of Arctic projects for WWF Russia. Experts have speculated that the leak can have a noxious impact on the local ecological system. The most toxic components of the leaked fuel consist of light aromatics that in no way can be collected and extracted out, and will dissolve in the water.
Russian President Vladimir Putin vehemently retorted to the disaster and publicly admonished Vladimir Potanin, billionaire owner of the mining giant, and also ordered the tightening of regulations along with a probe into the incident. Criminal proceedings have been launched and the head of the power plant has also been detained by authorities.
The President has also declared a state of emergency in the region so as to bring in extra forces and federal resources to tide over the crisis. Activist group Greenpeace has estimated that the damage caused to the Arctic waterways can cost at least six billion rubles (more than $76 million), excluding the atmospheric damage caused by the accident.
“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,” said the activist group in a statement.
Although Russian authorities and other critics have blamed the negligence of the company’s maintenance crew for the accident and pointed out that the company hadn’t given much attention to its aging infrastructure, it is also important to acknowledge the fact that the company indeed is situated in the heart of the region, which is the most burdened by the effects of climate change and global warming and hence, it too would’ve had a role to play in this disaster.
In fact, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) cautioned last year that climate change and the resultant global warming could cost the world economy more than $1 trillion over the next five years through weakening infrastructure, environmental damage like wildfires and storms, decreased crop yields and health problems.
Hence, it is high time that all major countries and leaders come together to collaborate and forge out a way to deal with climate change and global warming before it is too late.
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