Nurinkle, the parent company of Norilsk-Timer Energy, which operates the station, said the accident may have been caused by the storage tank sinking due to permafrost melting, according to Russian news agency TASS.
As a world of oil spillage, I see unique risks in the Arctic. This spill is a warning of an unstable future for which we are no longer prepared.
When I learn about the oil spill, I immediately ask two questions: What is the type of spilled oil and where does it leak? Crude oil, spilled in Exxon Valdez (1989) and Deepwater Horizon (2010), is thicker and more stable, but this makes it clear, easy to track, and clean.
Diesel oil spilled in the Arctic disaster is less viscous and difficult to contain and recover. Once the oil is in the water, the plants and animals will find themselves coated in a layer of powerful hydrocarbons. Pound vs. pound In the short term, diesel fuel is much more deadly than crude oil and can cause lasting damage longer.
Then there is the “where” part of my first question. With oil spills, it’s all about the site. Among the worst places where a diesel spill can occur is a closed body of water, such as a slow-flowing river or an inlet. I studied three spills like this.
The Deepwater Horizon spill was a huge challenge, but existing infrastructure and easy access in the Gulf of Mexico were helpful in cleaning efforts. Little of this infrastructure is in the Arctic.
All of these things mean that we have a great learning curve ahead of us and a short time to navigate. The Siberian River region of Siberia will have to do what responders can manage in a hurry and with the ticking of the clock. But it almost certainly will not be the last leak that we hear about in the Arctic.
Warming temperatures mean that more ship traffic will soon pass the northern corridor between Europe and Asia – diesel ships and other refined fuels. High temperatures also mean more permanent thaw, making the soil move and collapse and putting infrastructure, such as the Russian fuel tank, at increased risk.
The world is fraught with dangers that we would have been more prepared for. To this list, we need to add Arctic vulnerability to oil spills. We need insight, will and investment to develop strategies and policies to reduce the costs and impacts of future spills – to prepare effective responses now to the inevitable oil spills in the Arctic, and not to react to them after they occur.