Putin declares emergency after Siberia fuel leak

Joaqlin Estus

Diesel pollutes waters that will drain into the Arctic Ocean

MOSCOW (AP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared a state of emergency in a region of Siberia after an estimated 20,000 tons, or 5.7 million gallons, of diesel fuel spilled from a power plant storage facility and fouled waterways.

The spill took place Friday at a power plant in an outlying section of the city of Norilsk, 2900 kilometers (1800 miles) northeast of Moscow.

Booms were laid in the Ambarnaya River to block the fuel. The river feeds a lake from which springs another river that leads to the environmentally delicate Arctic Ocean. The area where the spill occurred is closer to the traditional homelands of the Nenets and northern Norway than Alaska. However, the fish and marine mammals of the Arctic Ocean and its interrelated coastal seas are an important source of food for Inuit and other Arctic Indigenous peoples.

A visibly irate Putin held a videolink meeting with local officials about the spill Wednesday and asked why the authorities had only learned about the spill two days after it occurred.

"What, are we going to learn about emergency situations from social media now? Are you in the right mind over there?" he asked regional governor Alexander Uss, before ordering officials to minimize the consequences of the spill.

Local emergency officials at the site of the clean-up told Russian television that the area's seclusion meant that it was hard to bring large boats in to pump out the oil.

"It's a secluded area. There's no transportation (access), by road or railroad," said Alexander Lobach, an official involved in the cleanup.

Alexei Knizhnikov of the World Wildlife Fund's Russia operation told the AP that the damage to fish and other resources could exceed 1 billion rubles (13 million US dollars).

He went on to estimate that as much as 90 percent of the oil products from the plant had made their way into nearby waterways.

"The problem is that this oil spill that is large in itself got onto the water's surface rather than the soil and has spread," Knizhnikov said.

The plant is operated by a division of Norilsk Nickel, whose factories in the area have made Norilsk one of the most heavily polluted places on Earth.

No cause for the accident has been determined, but a company statement said it was concerned about facilities constructed on sinking soil above permafrost

Updated to identify nearest Indigenous people. 


Joaqlin Estus, Indian Country Today national correspondent, contributed to this story.

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