Russian mining giant Nornickel has estimated that the clean-up costs from the failed storage tank and resulting diesel spill at one of its sites in Norilsk in northern Russia will cost RUB 10bn (US$150m).
Chief Operating Officer Sergey Dyachenko hosted a conference call on 9 June 2020 to update investors on the progress of the clean-up and the financial outlook. Nornickel executives were keen to note that RUB 10bn is an estimate at present, as a full assessment must still be completed.
The collapsed tank was storing 21,163 t of diesel, the back-up fuel for a combined heat and power plant at a site owned by Nornickel subsidiary Norilsk-Taymyr Energy Company (NTEC). Nornickel says that melting permafrost in the ground surrounding the tank caused the supports to sink suddenly. All of the fuel emptied out of the ruptured tank, and a containing wall designed to prevent further spills also ruptured as a result of the subsidence caused by the melting permafrost, allowing the diesel to flow over the surrounding land and into nearby river systems. Dyachenko said that around 16,000 t of diesel is thought to have entered the rivers.
Nornickel Chairman Gareth Penny confirmed that the company is carrying out a full audit of buildings and infrastructure to assess whether a similar collapse could be likely anywhere else. However, most Nornickel infrastructure is not built on permafrost.
Nornickel is working with the Marine Rescue Team from Murmansk and Russian oil and gas majors including Transneft and Gazpromneft to clean up the contamination. As of 9 June, 23,000 t of contaminated soil has been removed and stored in concrete tanks for cleaning at a later date, and a 33,000 m2 area around the site has been treated with sorbents. Almost 7,000 m3 of contaminated water has been collected.
Dyachenko said that contaminated water from the rivers is being pumped out into 24 temporary containment tanks. The water-fuel mix is predominantly diesel and will be separated. Nornickel will assess the exact make-up of the water before deciding whether to separate it onsite or transport it elsewhere via railway for separation. He is confident that all the contamination can be removed from the area, contrary to media claims that 90% could not be collected, and said that Nornickel is working with local environmental groups.
Once the contaminated water has been removed, the next stage will be to treat the banks of the river with sorbents to remove any remaining diesel.
Greenpeace Russia has said that the spill has reached Lake Pyasino, an important fish habitat and local fishery, and the source of the Pyasina River, which flows into the Kara Sea in the Arctic. Dyachenko said in the conference call, however, that the spill had been contained upstream in the Ambarnaya River and will not reach the lake, with no risk of pollution to the Kara Sea.
Dyachenko also refuted claims that the company had delayed informing the authorities, after several media reports. He said the spill was reported immediately to local authorities and within half an hour was reported to the Russian Ministry of Energy in Moscow.
Much of the cost of the clean-up is likely to be in water treatment and environmental remediation, but the company must also replace the tank and the diesel. Any financial penalties will be calculated by the Russian Environment Supervision Agency (Rosprirodnadzor), which is expected to complete its investigations by 26 June 2020.