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Russia declares emergency after Arctic Oil Spill

  • Category
    Ecology and Environment
  • Published
    9th Jun, 2020

Russia has declared a state of emergency, five days after a power plant fuel leak in its Arctic region caused 20,000 tonnes of diesel oil to escape into a local river, turning its surface crimson red.

Context

Russia has declared a state of emergency, five days after a power plant fuel leak in its Arctic region caused 20,000 tonnes of diesel oil to escape into a local river, turning its surface crimson red.

About

How did the leak happen?

  • The emergency measures were announced within Russia’s Krasnoyarsk Region, located in the vast and sparsely populated Siberian peninsula.
  • The power plant is located near the Region’s Norilsk city, known as the country’s nickel capital, around 3000 km northeast of Moscow.
  • The thermoelectric power plant at Norilsk is built on permafrost, which has weakened over the years owing to climate change.

What is Permafrost?

  • Permafrost is any ground that remains completely frozen—32°F (0°C) or colder—for at least two years straight.
  • These permanently frozen grounds are most common in regions with high mountains and in Earth’s higher latitudes—near the North and South Poles.
  • Permafrost covers large regions of the Earth. Almost a quarter of the land area in the Northern Hemisphere has permafrost underneath. Although the ground is frozen, permafrost regions are not always covered in snow.
  • Permafrost is made of a combination of soil, rocks and sand that are held together by ice. The soil and ice in permafrost stay frozen all year long.
  • Near the surface, permafrost soils also contain large quantities of organic carbon—a material leftover from dead plants that couldn’t decompose, or rot away, due to the cold. Lower permafrost layers contain soils made mostly of minerals.
  • This caused the pillars that supported the plant’s fuel tank to sink, leading to a loss of containment.
  • Around 20,000 tonnes of diesel oil was released into the Ambarnaya river, which has since drifted 12 km on its surface.
    • The Ambarnaya river, into which the oil has been discharged, is part of a network that flows into the environmentally sensitive Arctic Ocean.

The extent of the damage

  • Environmentalists have said the river would be difficult to clean, given its shallow waters and remote location, as well as the magnitude of the spill.
  • The most toxic components of diesel fuel are light aromatics (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene), which in significant quantities, will nevertheless dissolve in water and can in no way be collected.
  • It is the second-largest known oil leak in modern Russia’s history in terms of volume.
  • The Russian chapter of activist group Greenpeace said damages to the Arctic waterways could be at least 6 billion rubles (over $76 million), and has compared the incident to Alaska’s 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.
  • Its estimate does not include atmospheric damage due to greenhouse gases and soil pollution. The clean-up effort could take between 5-10 years.
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