Business World

Oil pollution in Russia: three business leaders arrested

Accused of having continued to use a tank which had to be repaired, the three men blame the melting of permafrost, due to global warming.

Following major oil pollution in the Russian Arctic, the committee of inquiry announced Wednesday the arrest of three leaders of the implicated company. On May 29, 21,000 tonnes of fuel was spilled from the reservoir of a thermal power plant into the Ambarnaïa river and surrounding land.

The CEO of this subsidiary of the big Russian mining group Norilsk Nickel, Pavel Smirnov, as well as the main engineer Alexei Stepanov and his deputy Yuri Kuznetsov, are accused of having continued to use a fuel tank which should have been repaired as early as 2018. They face up to five years in prison.

“Despite the state of emergency, the tank continued to be used in violation of safety rules. As a result, an accident has occurred, “said the investigation committee, which must now decide whether the three men will be held in pre-trial detention for an extended period.

An effect of the permafrost thaw

Following these convictions, Norilsk Nickel condemned measures “unreasonably severe”, in a statement sent to the Russian agency Ria Novosti. “The leaders of the (electro-thermal) power stations are cooperating with the police and they would be much more useful at the scene” of the accident, said in this press release Nikolai Outkin, vice-president of the group.

The Board of Directors was scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss the accident. On Tuesday evening, during a conference call with investors, Norilsk Nickel officials argued that the accident was due to the thawing of permafrost, or permafrost. As a result of global warming, it would have caused the pillars supporting the tank to collapse.

The group claims that the tank in question, built-in 1985, had been repaired in “2017-2018” and inspected in 2018, and that “all recommendations” made following this inspection had been “followed and monitored”. Norilsk Nickel officials acknowledged on Tuesday, however, that the state of permafrost has not been monitored so far, and that a full audit of its infrastructure will be carried out.

Nearly 700 people mobilized on site

The accident is considered by ecological organizations and the authorities to be the worst due to oil in the Russian Arctic. In this fragile region, mining, gas and oil exploitation are numerous and pollution has been a growing problem since Soviet times.

On-site, the cleaning work mobilizes nearly 700 people, according to the Ministry of Emergency Situations. The director-general of Transneft Siberia, Victor Bronnikov, in charge of part of the depollution operations, explains that the situation seems “stabilized”, but that the pumping of pollutants would still last “at least eight to ten days”.

“Complete cleaning will take years,” he insists, as special products will be dispersed to break down or absorb the diesel that could not be pumped and that spilled in this swampy area in the spring. According to him, the first effects on the ecosystem of this sparsely populated region have already been noted.

“Our workers saw dead ducks. I myself saw a dead muskrat, “he said, noting that any animal that came into contact with fuel was” definitely sentenced to death. ” He nevertheless assured that there were no “mass animal deaths”.

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