28 july 2020

An oil spill in Russia’s Arctic exposes risks for Moscow’s Far North plans

Thawing permafrost in the rapidly warming region leaves Moscow’s ambitious Arctic expansion proposals literally on shaky ground

By Isabelle Khurshudyan, Andrew Freedman, Washington Post
July 28, 2020

MOSCOW — The smell of diesel was so overpowering that it made Vasily Ryabinin dizzy. That meant he was getting close.

As an inspector from Russia’s environmental agency, Ryabinin went on his own to the Daldykan River in the Siberian city of Norilsk to see firsthand the aftermath of a major fuel leak at a metals plant.

He was also getting a glimpse of something else: possible warning signs for Russia’s plans to aggressively expand its industrial and military footholds across the country’s resource-rich Arctic — one of the world’s fastest-warming regions.

This surge in climate change in interior Russia — more than three times the global average — is throwing new risks in the way of President Vladimir Putin’s Far North agenda, among his top domestic initiatives. A key danger is piling more infrastructure atop rapidly thawing permafrost, land that remains frozen year after year.

As the permafrost destabilizes, so will the buildings, oil and gas pipelines, roads, railways, and military bases built on top of it, environmentalists and others warn.

This is what metals giant Norilsk Nickel claims happened in late May at its power station about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Melting permafrost shifted the foundation and ruptured a fuel reservoir, sending 21,000 tons of diesel into a fragile ecosystem of rivers and wetlands.

“The area should be declared an ecological disaster zone,” said Roman Desyatkin, who studies permafrost and is based in the Siberian city of Yakutsk.


>>> Back to list