GP Insights

GP Insights # 366, 6 June 2020

A major oil spill in the Arctic; Russia declares emergency
Rashmi Ramesh

What happened?
The oil spill in the Ambarnaya River within the Arctic Circle has become a major concern for Russia.  The spill was reportedly caused by the collapse of a fuel tank at a power plant near Norilsk, a Siberian city and also one of the most polluted areas of the world. The leaked oil has drifted 12 kilometres from the accident site, and has affected 350 sq. km area. 

President Putin has declared the state of emergency, given the expanse of the oil spill and extra forces will now be going into the area to assist in the clean-up process. 

What is the background?
First, oil spills have been common occurrences. They are either caused by accident or deliberate. Such incidents come to the limelight if they occur in developed countries and mostly go unnoticed if they happen in the developing world. For example, the oil spill in Nigeria in 2006, led to 47 million gallons of oil leaking into Niger Delta Region. According to Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation hundreds of spills happen every year. Similar incidents have been witnessed in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, which have affected the biodiversity and the indigenous communities to a very large extent. Technologically advanced countries and the ones having a formidable disaster management mechanism have dealt with oil spills better.

Second, the impact on the ecosystem from the Arctic oil spill. The ecologically sensitive region has faced several oil spills that have affected the Arctic Ocean as well as the rivers within the Arctic Circle. The current oil spill in the Russian Arctic is one of the biggest in the country’s history and is comparable to the Exxon Valdez oil spill (Alaska) of 1989, in terms of the consequences on the environment.

What does it mean?
First, the effect on biodiversity. Even though the government deployed extra forces for cleaning the river, it is expected to take no less than a few years to get the river back to pre-oil spill level. Certainly, the marine life and the biodiversity around along the river bank will be affected severely. Also, there seem to be some technical difficulties, in cleaning up, as the river is located in a remote area, with limited infrastructure and roads. 

Second, the critical state of the Arctic. Reports point out that the recent spill is also a result of climate change. Norilsk Nickel, the company owning the plant issued a statement saying that the fuel reservoir collapsed due to the melting permafrost. The permafrost of the Arctic is melting at a rapid pace due to climate change and has caused landslides, collapse of buildings, and loss of traditional methods of livelihood. The Arctic is at the brink, prone to more such “accidents” in the future, as excavation and drilling for hydrocarbons and minerals is increasing.

 

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