Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared a state of emergency after a giant diesel fuel spill in a remote Arctic region 1,800 miles from Moscow.
After the accident Friday at a power plant owned by Norilsk Nickel, one of Russia’s largest mining companies, Putin skewered officials for their sluggish response.
“Why did government agencies find out about this only after two days? Are we going to find out about emergencies from social media now?” Putin asked a Norilsk Nickel manager during a teleconference on Wednesday.
Of the approximately 23,000 U.S. tons of oil products that spilled into the environment, nearly 17,000 tons flowed into a river, according to Russia’s environmental inspection agency. By comparison, the volume of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska was about 39,000 tons of oil.
Norilsk Nickel, which insists it informed the authorities of the accident in a “timely manner,” says a fuel reservoir may have collapsed because of thawing permafrost below it.
More than 20,000 tons of diesel leaked into the Ambarnaya River near the city of Norilsk last Friday. The accident is considered the second-biggest oil spill in modern Russian history. Elena Panova, the Russian deputy minister of national resources and the environment, said on Thursday that it would take at least 10 years for the local ecosystem to recover.
Sergey Verkhovets, coordinator of Arctic projects for WWF Russia, said:
The incident 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.
Russia is the world’s third-largest oil producer, behind the United States and Saudi Arabia.
The power plant’s director Vyacheslav Starostin was taken into custody but was not yet charged with a crime.
The company, along with the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry, dispatched hundreds of personnel to clean up the spill. So far, Norilsk Nickel said they had managed to gather up only around 340 tons of the oil.
Barges with booms could not contain the slick because the Ambarnaya River was too shallow. Some media is calling the spill, “Russia’s Exxon Valdez.” In that 1989 incident, more than 37,000 metric tons of crude oil were spilled in Alaska.
BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig spilled around 4.9 million barrels of oil after a methane explosion on April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico — the largest marine oil spill in history. And a decade later, scientists are finding oil from that spill in the livers of fish, and on the deep ocean floor.