Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel), the world's leading nickel and palladium producer, was involved in Russia's worst oil spill last week for spilling 5 million gallons of diesel fuel into the Ambarnaya River. Environmentalists have assessed the damage and predict that it could take five to ten years to accomplish the clean-up.
Officials have speculated that the NTEK power station collapsed due to melting permafrost, causing ground subsidence. Rosprirodnadzor, a Russian environmental agency, has called the concentration of contaminants catastrophic, and they have 'already exceeded permissible levels tens of thousands of times over.'
The incident resulted in harsh criticism from President Vladamir Putin as the company delayed to report the disastrous accident. Vyacheslav Starostin, NTEK's director, has been taken into custody. A criminal case for pollution and alleged negligence has been launched by the Russian Investigative Committee.
Arctic permafrost, frozen ground that should be consistently solid for at least two years, has been melting due to exceptionally warm temperatures atypical for these past few months. About 55% of Russia is situated on permafrost which continues to rapidly degrade and causing giant sinkholes.
Siberia is predominantly permafrost while the main gas and oil fields are found in the region. The nation's climate is also drastically changing, as it would usually see a blanket of snow for four to five months.
Instead, they've experienced the hottest winter in 140 years of meteorological observations by the Hydrometeorological Center of Russia. Less snow than usual is described by meteorologists as a 'once in a century' occurrence.
Last year, Alexy Kokorin from the World Wildlife Fund, reported that 'the problem [of global warming] is recognized, but the sense of urgency is absent. It's mostly seen as a problem to be dealt with in the future.
One of the biggest problems with thawing permafrost isn't just the accelerating rate, but the gas the ground is releasing. National Geographic pointed out last year that 'Entering the atmosphere as methane or carbon dioxide, the carbon promises to accelerate climate change, even as humans struggle to curb our fossil fuel emissions.'
Scientists have calculated that for every 33 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) rise in Earth's average temperature, 'permafrost may release the equivalent of four to six years' worth of coal, oil, and natural gas emissions... permafrost could be as big a source of greenhouse gases is China, the world's largest emitter,' within a few decades.
The Ambarnaya river is filled with crimson red diesel fuel, drifting 7.5 miles from the power plant and contaminating 135 square miles of sea. Putin's declaration of a state of emergency is calling for extra forces as clean-up aid.
Igor Krasnov, the country's chief prosecutor, gave orders for a thorough check of 'particularly dangerous installations' located on 'territories exposed to permafrost melting' for environmental and regional prosecutors.
Their goal is to prevent all possible repetitions of this incident and the effectiveness of state monitoring will be assessed. Companies' adherence to safety laws, environmental monitoring, and measures to prevent emergencies will also be monitored by the prosecutors.
Environmental groups have measured the scale of the spill as a difficult clean-up operation as there has 'never been such an accident in the Arctic zone,' said Oleg Mitvol from Rosprirodnadzor. The clean-up may cost up to $1.4-$1.7 billion and take five to ten years to accomplish.