Ten months after a giant Arctic spill, inspectors fear more accidents at Nornickel’s oil tank farms

Norilsk Nickel subsidiaries have failed to fix fuel tank problems, a Russian environment watchdog warns.

By Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer - April 27, 2021
More than 21,000 tons of diesel oil spilled into the tundra when an oil storage tank ruptured in late May 2020. (Rosprirodnadzor via The Independent Barents Observer)

An unannounced control mission conducted at the Taymyr Energy Company and Norilsktransgaz has raised the concern about possible more accidents at far northern oil facilities in Russia operated by mining and metallurgy company Nornickel, such as the massive spill at a Norilsk facility last spring.

According to the inspectors from federal natural protection agency Rosprirodnadzor, the companies have failed to follow up on a large number of previously discovered irregularities.

The Taymyr Energy Company has fixed only 38 of 115 irregularities, while the Norilsktransgaz has carried out 42 of 81 breaches, the state agency informs.

The two companies are owned and managed by mining and metallurgy major Nornickel.

The inspectors say that the storage installations are operated without required project documentation that provides proper protection of the surrounding environment and restoration of polluted grounds. Several of the oil storage facilities were reportedly built in the the period 1950-1970.

The inspection was conducted on request from Deputy Prime Minister Viktoria Abramchenko, and “the general conclusion is that the situation is not satisfactory,” the agency underlines.

The inspection comes after more than 21,000 tons of diesel fuel spilled into the tundra and local waters on May 29, 2020. The spill created an environmental catastrophe in the far northern region.

According to Rosprirodnadzor, the environmental catastrophe happened after the concrete foundation on which the reservoir rested began to sink. Following the sinking, the bottom of the reservoir detached from its walls whereupon the diesel oil spilled into the surroundings.

The state agency has warned Nornickel that more similar accidents could take place. In a letter addressed to the Norilsk Taymyr Energy Company in June 2020, the environmental watchdog said that more reservoirs ultimately could collapse and that several thousand more tons of fuel could run into the vulnerable tundra

It was long believed that climate change was the reason for the oil spill. According to Nornickel and a number of environmental experts, the ground under the oil reservoir collapsed following the melting of permafrost. However, federal inspectors later rebuffed that theory.

In February 2021, the Krasnoyarsk Court of Arbitration decided that Nornickel must pay 146.18 billion rubles (€1.62 billion) for the environmental damage inflicted on the environment.