Authorities in Russia are enforcing a state of emergency in an Arctic region following the rupture and leakage of a massive fuel tank.
A large fuel reserve owned by a thermal power unit burst on Friday in the neighborhood of Norilsk, a remote city about 180 miles above the Arctic Circle.
ABC News confirms that the tank, located in an industrial zone owned by the Russian mining conglomerate, Norilsk Nikel contained 20,000 tons of diesel which leaked into rivers and a reservoir in the Taimyrskii Dolgano-Nenetskii district.
Aerial Images and Videos reveal large swathes of two rivers, the Ambarnaya and Daldykan, have changed into bright red.
The smear is so much that it was captured in satellite images through Yandex Maps, Russia’s own version of Google Maps.
Environmental rights activists are alerting the public of possible long term consequences of the spillage.
Also, President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday classified the leakage a federal emergency and faulted regional authorities for their undesirably slow response. The Krasnoyarsk region declared a local state of emergency on Sunday, exactly two days after the leakage was confirmed.
Russian officials blamed the slow response to the situation on the local authorities’ refusal to alert them of the extent of the rare occurrence on time.
Governor of the Krasnoyarsk region, Alexander Uss, on Wednesday informed President Putin via a televised video call that he only got to know the truth of the matter when he saw videos posted by locals on a social media platform.
That triggered an unusual response from Putin, who questioned why it had taken two days for authorities to know about the problem.
Daily Mail reports that when the leakage first began, Krasnoyarsk’s Emergency Ministry initially informed news reporters that a car had accidentally hit the fuel tanks, resulting in a fire outbreak. The Ministry at the time did not mention anything about oil leakage from the tank.
It was only later that the regional authority found out that the car actually got burnt after it was covered by the flood of leaking fuel.
Vice President of the Krasnoyarsk regional government, Anatoly Tsykalov, told the RBC earlier in the week that the spillage could have been better managed, if the local officials had informed them earlier.
Tsykalov noted workers could have built a dam on the slopes underneath the tank to stop the fuel from getting to the waterways that flow into the larger rivers.
Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office on Wednesday said a criminal investigation had been launched to determine charges for environmental harm. The Director of the power station’s turbine section has been arrested, while its General Director has been issued a stern reprimand.
The World Wildlife Fund, which gave the alert about the spill, said on Wednesday that workers had now managed to stop the diesel from leakage into a nearby lake through the use of floating barriers.
Aleksey Knizhnikov, WWF Russia’s director for environmentally-responsible business explained that the successful localization of the slick does not guarantee pollutants will not move into the lake.
He said the most harmful components of diesel fuel easily dissolve in water, meaning the barriers would not prevent them.
According to Green Daily, Sergey Verkhovets, WWF Russia’s Coordinator for Arctic Projects, indigenous reindeer herders nearby also would suffer greatly.
He also said the consequences of such accidents, especially in the north, could be long term increasing fish mortality, the smear of birds’ feathers and animals poisoning.
Also Yevgeny Zinichyev, Russia’s Minister for Emergency Services, told Putin on Wednesday that workers had successfully scooped about 100 tons of fuel and polluted concretes from the area, but that cleaning the polluted waterways would take a longer time and effort.
He said 100 extra emergency workers would be on ground on Thursday to help Governor Uss who agreed his region had zero experience handling a leakage of this magnitude.
The leakage seems to be among the most environmentally-harmful accidents in the region involving Norilsk Nikel, which has been behind previous spills.
Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fuel tank’s rupture. Although, Norilsk Nikel suggests the tank might have fallen because permafrost under it thawed after an unusually warm winter.
Russia recorded warm temperatures in 2020, and without snows in some regions.
Sergey Dyachenko, Norilsk Nikel first Vice President, in a statement stated he thinks that the unusually warm temperatures could have caused the partial weakening of the support on which the tank rested.
Melting permafrost is now a notable issue in the region as climate changes. Many buildings in Norilsk are not built with foundations, but directly into the hard frozen soil.
But lately, top layers of the permafrost have weakened, causing buildings to sink or become structurally defective.
It is not the first time, however, that rivers near Norilsk Nikel’s facilities in the area have been suffered by pollution. 4 years ago, the company agreed that flooding at one of its metal plants close to the same area had resulted in a leakage ,which also changed a river into bright red.