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Former Mayor convicted for role in Russian oil spill as clean-up cost surpasses £30 million

20 October 2020

A court in Russia convicted the former Mayor of Norilsk on October 19 for his role in an oil spill at a power plant near the Siberian city on May 29. Rinat Akhmetchin was convicted of criminal negligence after authorities failed to report the 20,000-litre oil spill for two days after it happened. Meanwhile, the clean-up cost of the spill surpassed three billion roubles (£30m) the mining company behind the spill announced.

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

The diesel fuel spill on May 29 happened at a combined heat and power plant belonging to Nornnickel subsidiary Norilsk-Taimyr Energy Company (NTEC) in the city of Norilsk after a fuel tank’s support pillars subsided. In a televised government meeting after 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.

The conviction of Rinat Akhmetchin, the Mayor at the time of the spill, was expedited after he confessed to all charges. Akhmetchin was sentenced to six months of community service and will lose 15% of his wages. According to local media, Akhmetchin was charged with criminal negligence after police found evidence on his phone. Police said that his failure to declare an emergency situation in a timely manner led to a significant increase in the damage caused by the spill.

Rosprirodnadzor, Russia’s state environment watchdog, estimated that around 15,000 tonnes of oil products leaked into the Ambarnaya and Daldykan river systems while around 6,000 tonnes had seeped into the subsoil. Rosprirodnadzor estimated the damage to the environment at about 148 billion roubles (£1.4 billion), a sum that Nornnickel disputed and said was too high. Rosprirodnadzor later filed a lawsuit against Nornnickel to recover the amount.

On October 14, Nornnickel’s Vice President, Director of the Polar Division Nikolai Utkin told reporters that the company had so far spent around 3 billion roubles (£30 million) on cleaning up the oil spill. Utkin said that the company estimates the total amount spent so far on collecting, separating fuel from water, storage, cargo delivery, and the rehabilitation of natural resources is around 13.3 billion roubles (£132 million).

Utkin added that Nornickel would also invest a further 40 billion roubles (£400 million) in cleaning, including the revegetation of contaminated soil. The sum will also cover the pulling down of abandoned buildings, pipelines, and removing scrap from around industrial facilities in Norilsk. Utkin said the process could take up to another five years.

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