Nornickel Develops Permafrost Monitoring Plan After Russian Arctic Fuel Spill

Russian company Nornickel, one of the world’s leading producers of nickel and palladium, has unveiled a long-term program to monitor permafrost and remedy environmental damage after an arctic fuel spill in its hometown of Norilsk.

In what has been described as the worst environmental disaster to impact the Arctic, on May 29, more than 21,000 tonnes of diesel fuel spilled into the ground, two rivers and a lake downstream after the a storage tank at a power plant operated by Nornickel collapsed or sank due to what the company said was thawing permafrost soil.

Two factory managers and two high-level engineers were arrested for violating environmental protection rules. The mayor of Norilsk and a government inspector were also charged with negligence.

Greenpeace compared the incident to the devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 off Alaska, and President Vladimir Putin declared a state of emergency after the incident.

“For several years now, Nornickel has been striving to reduce its environmental impact. Today we face bigger challenges for everyone in the world: climate change and its impact on the Arctic region and our operations,” Gareth Penny, chairman of the board of directors of Nornickel, said in a statement.

Nornickel also announced that it has appointed Andrei Bougrov, who has been with the company since 2013, as senior vice president for environmental protection.

The company plans to strengthen cooperation with Russian and foreign researchers focused on arctic ecology and permafrost areas to find solutions and improve industrial security in the region, Bougrov said in the statement.

According to Nornickel’s estimate, over 90 percent of the spilled fuel has been collected and removed so far.

Authorities have yet to rule on the extent of the environmental damage or the cause of the crash, but Greenpeace has estimated it at $ 1.4 billion.

Nornickel has pledged to pay for the cleanup costs, estimated at 10 billion rubles ($ 145 million).

Nornickel is owned by the richest man in Russia, Vladimir Potanin.

With reports from Reuters, dpa and Interfax

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