Red rivers of Russia and the Arctic oil spill

One of the largest oil spills in Russian history was reported at the end of last month. A fuel tank collapsed at a power plant in the city of Norilsk located above the Arctic Circle in Russia’s far north in the Siberian tundra. The collapsed fuel tank contained 20,000 tons of red diesel. Environmentalists claim that the spill could have long-lasting impacts on marine life and human.
The power plant is said to be operated by Norilsk-Taimyr Energy Co, a subsidiary of Nornickel. The officials explain the incident as a result of the softening of the permafrost. The term “permafrost” is used for the ground that is frozen for two or more years. Siberia is permafrost and home to oil and gas fields. “The accident was caused by a sudden sinking of supporting posts in the basement of the storage tank,” the company says in a statement.

According to the initial probe of the leak, the oil tank has been damaged due to above-average temperatures in Siberia, which eroded the soil, causing damage to the foundation and cracks in the tank resulting in the collapse.

“In times of global climate change, this problem is characteristic of the Arctic Zone,” Greenpeace Organization says regarding the issue of structures in Siberia losing stability due to fluctuating temperatures.

The collapsed fuel tank has spilt oil onto the roadway and a passing car has caught fire. According to Rosprirodnadzor, the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources, 6,000 tons of diesel has spilt onto the ground, another 15,000 tons into the water. The spill has spread to an area of 7 miles from the accident site and Oil products have turned the long tributes of  Ambarnaya and Daldykyan rivers turning them bright red.

In Russia, diesel is dyed red if it’s used for heating of buildings and structures, the diesel is usually pumped into special storage tanks and subsequently consumed as an energy source.

The Greenpeace organization believes that the damage to water bodies alone from the diesel spill could amount more than $85 million. Vladimir Potanin the owner of Nornickel has pledged to pay for the cleanup of the oil spill.

A Few days later of the incident, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared an emergency in the region and reports say that progress has been made in cleaning the most affected areas with a special task force. “We have stopped the spread of the petroleum products,” the spokeswoman for the task force in charge of the accident clean-up said. Unfortunately, the experts say that the affected area would take more than 10 years to fully recover.

Meanwhile, the United States has offered to help Russia in cleaning up the oil in the Arctic Ocean. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has tweeted “Saddened to hear about the fuel spill in Norilsk, Russia, despite our disagreements, the United States stands ready to assist Russia to mitigate this environmental disaster and offer our technical expertise.”

“The incident led to catastrophic consequences and we will be seeing the repercussions for years to come,” Sergey Verkhovets, coordinator of Arctic projects for WWF Russia, said in a statement reported by CNN. “We are talking about dead fish, polluted plumage of birds, and poisoned animals.”

Experts say that there could be long term impacts of the oil spill on marine life and human. The thick layer of oil covering the water surface could block the respiration ability of the marine mammals. Even if the oil layer is thin, it could blend with the water and get absorbed in their organs and affect their vital functions. Also, the oil contaminates the food of the marine animals causing their death. It could also affect breeding as exposure to oil can affect fish eggs.

While the oil spill has a direct impact on marine life, the human could be affected indirectly. The oil can get accumulated in groundwater polluting it and the hard metals can cause tons of diseases in human. Humans can also face health issues after they consume animals that died due to the oil spill.

By Jumana Jabeer

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