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Russian mining giant disputes $2bn fine as second fuel leak occurs

13 July 2020

On July 6, Russian environmental agency Rosprirodnadzor asked mining giant Norilsk Nickel (Nornnickel) to pay around 148 billion roubles ($2 billion) in damages for its role in a 20,000-tonne diesel fuel leak from a power plant on May 29. Norilsk Nickel disputed the fine, saying that the environmental damage caused by the spill had been overestimated. Days later on July 12, another fuel leak occurred from a Nornnickel pipeline in Russia's Arctic region.

The May 29 spill - Image: ESA / Wikimedia
The May 29 spill - Image: ESA / Wikimedia

In response to the Rosprirodnadzor fine, Nornickel said in a statement that it disputes the amount of damage caused to the environment as a result of the diesel fuel spill. Rosprirodnadzor had asked Nornnickel’s subsidiary, NTEK, for voluntary compensation after the environmental watchdog calculated the damage caused by the May 29 spill. 
Nornickel added that the calculations used to determine the damage caused to water bodies and soil were based on assumptions, leading to a distortion of the true damage estimates. The company reiterated its commitment to fully cover the cost of remediation of the environmental impact of the fuel spill in line with the applicable legislation. 
The accident took place at the Nadezhdinski Metallurgical Plant where around 15,000 tonnes of spilled petrochemicals seeped into river systems. The leak occurred after a fuel tank, which is built on permafrost, became depressurised due to the subsidence of its support pillars. The spill consisted of fuel and lubricants and much of it flowed into the nearby Daldykan and Ambarnaya rivers. In a televised government meeting following the incident, President Putin criticised the local government for its response to the incident after it emerged that officials first heard about the leak on social media, two days after it had happened.
Putin declared a state of emergency on June 3 while several employees of the Nornnickel subsidiary were detained. 
Nornnickel’s dispute against Rosprirodnadzor’s compensation claims came just days before the mining giant reported another fuel leak in Russia’s Arctic region. On July 12, Nornnickel said that around 45 tonnes of aviation fuel had leaked from a pipeline. 
In a statement, the company said that a pipeline belonging to Norilsktransgaz (part of Norilsk Nickel Group) depressurised during the transfer of aviation fuel in the vicinity of the Tukhard settlement. Preliminary data showed that the leak lasted about 15 minutes. The statement added that there was no threat to people living in the nearby area.
Norilsktransgaz has opened an investigation into the incident.


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