© Federal Marine Rescue Service

Major diesel fuel leak in Russian Arctic threatens vulnerable rivers, lakes, wildlife and Indigenous Peoples

4 June 2020

Arctic Climate Change Reindeer & Caribou Russia Wildlife Oil and gas Communities

President Vladimir Putin declared a national state of emergency today after 20,000 cubic meters of diesel fuel spilled into the Daldykan and Ambarnaya rivers in northern Russia this past weekend. Damaged fuel tanks accidentally leaked on May 29 from NTEC, an industrial site operated by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel. The spill was so large that a change in the colour of nearby rivers was recorded by satellite two days later.

Diesel fuel is more toxic than oil. According to local residents, the diesel flowed into the Daldykan and Ambarnaya rivers, which feed beautiful Pyasino Lake and then drain to the Kara Sea. The spill threatens populations of fish, birds and a herd of wild reindeer in the west of Taimyr. The reindeer herd was already under threat from poaching and this spill is another source of concern for the Indigenous Peoples who depend upon the reindeer for their livelihoods.

Sergey Verkhovets, coordinator of Arctic projects at WWF Russia said:

“The accident at NTEC will have catastrophic impacts on nature and it could take years to recover. WWF shares the concerns of the Indigenous population. We have raised concerns about the consequences of such accidents for a long time. It is extremely urgent that the federal government take action to prevent the further spread of the toxic fuel. It is also necessary to study the issue of how to support the Indigenous minorities of Taimyr engaged in traditional nature management in their original territory.”

WWF became aware of the spill on Sunday after discussions with locals and was one of the first organizations to call for the government to intervene. Russia’s federal emergency response force arrived on Monday to begin containing the spill. The new state of emergency will allow the government to deploy more people to help with clean-up.

Aleksey Knizhnikov, Head of the Program for Business Environmental Responsibility at WWF-Russia said:

Stopping further spread is important, but the toxic elements will still be in the river and the lake. A spill like this should not have happened in the first place. NTEC’s aging infrastructure combined with rapidly thawing permafrost in the region highlight the need for companies in the Arctic to switch to alternative energy sources.

The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet due to climate change and there is growing interest in exploiting the region’s natural resources. The global community must take a precautionary approach to protect the Arctic’s vulnerable biodiversity in the face of such rapid change.

Jan Dusik, Lead specialist, sustainable development, WWF Arctic Programme said:

“This spill is a clear example of the need for more effective oil spill prevention and response in the Arctic. Oil and gas development and operations - be it extraction, shipping or industrial use as in the Norilsk case - must take all precautions to protect ecologically valuable areas, particularly those that contribute to the resilience of Arctic ecosystems and Indigenous livelihoods. The Arctic is a special place with unique ecological and cultural values put at serious risk by expanding industrialization. This major incident underlines the urgency for a transition towards a 100 per cent renewable future in the Arctic, through the replacement of fossil fuels with clean energy sources.”

A preliminary criminal investigation is being carried out by inquiry officers of the internal affairs bodies of the Russian Federation. Specialists from WWF-Russia are independently monitoring the emergency situation and are working with relevant departments to help address the problem swiftly and effectively.

For further information:

Leanne Clare | Sr. Manager Communications, Arctic Programme | lclare@wwfcanada.org