Red river in Norilsk: the true cause of the fuel spill

Nov 20, 2020 4:26 PM ET

iCrowdNewswire   Nov 20, 2020  11:26 AM ET

Red River in Norilsk is an urgent and actively discussed environmental topic in 2020. Of course, we are talking about the Daldykan River, into which many tons of diesel fuel flowed out due to the fact that a fuel tank located at CHPP-3, owned by Norilsk Nickel, fell and became depressurized.

Why did the river in Norilsk turn red?

Scientists have made a lot of efforts to determine the real cause of the accident, which was necessary, first of all, to prevent such situations in the future. And the reason was found out – abnormally warm temperatures led to an unexpected melting of permafrost. But it was that many decades ago (back in the USSR) piles that held a container with fuel were inserted in the soil, which is permafrost,.

The fact is that long-term permafrost is indeed viewed by architects and builders as a stable ground for building foundations. Soviet engineers developing a plan for installing piles for a fuel tank did not assume that for several years abnormally warm temperatures would be observed in this area, which would lead to a gradual subsidence of the plate.

But that is exactly what happened. The permafrost was melting, the soil subsided and, in the end, the piles swayed. The fuel tank stopped holding on to the piles and, as a result of the impact, leaked.

Red River is a problem solved by Norilsk Nickel

Red River has become a truly serious problem for Norilsk. However, it should be noted that Norilsk Nickel started to solve it already in the first hours after the accident.

Sergey Dyachenko, the operational director of the enterprise, drew attention to the fact that there are all documents that confirm that the condition of the tank was regularly checked as part of a planned industrial safety examination. In particular, the last examination was in 2018 and did not reveal any problems that could interfere with the operation of the reservoir. Nobody considered the possibility of soil subsidence.

But such a situation should become a warning in order to take into account and prevent the likelihood of its recurrence in the future. Therefore, Nornickel began close cooperation with ecologists and other scientists in order to study the processes of thawing permafrost, to envisage strengthening safety measures at other structures of a similar type of enterprise.

In particular, measures are envisaged to check the condition of other fuel tanks owned by the company, analyze the soil and the integrity of the piles holding the slabs with installed tanks.

Accident elimination and ecosystem restoration

The Daldykan River in Norilsk turned red due to a diesel leak.

However, no excess of the permissible concentration of harmful substances in drinking water in the Norilsk water intakes was recorded. Andrey Pershin, head of the territorial department of Rospotrebnadzor, confirmed that no pollution of underground water sources with oil products was found. Moreover, the content of harmful substances in Norilsk drinking water is 5 times less than the maximum permissible standards.

The management of the company immediately began to clean up the consequences of the spill, saying that it should take about two weeks. And, indeed, the pollution of the river in Norilsk, because of which it turned red, and the soil was localized as soon as possible.

If we talk about the complete restoration of the ecosystem affected by the diesel spill, then it took place in several stages. Nornickel’s human resources and equipment were involved. Local rescue services and some other enterprises from the metallurgical industry also helped.

The COO of Norilsk Nickel also noted that the Norilsk-Taimyr Energy Company will definitely replenish reserves of reserve fuel in order to be fully prepared for the heating season.

On the Ambarnaya River, rescuers set up a camp, were able to localize the fuel as quickly as possible and began collecting pollution for its subsequent disposal.

The contaminated soil was replaced and taken out to a special temporary storage facility.

Great Norilsk expedition

It has already been said above that the Nornickel management decided to take all measures to prevent such situations in the future. The situation with the appearance of the red river in Norilsk should no longer be repeated.

In particular, for this it is necessary to study the state of permafrost and, in addition, to assess the current state of the biosphere of Norilsk and adjacent territories.

For this purpose, at the end of July 2020, together with scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences, Norilsk Nickel organized the Great Norilsk Expedition. It was originally conceived so that the expedition will consist of two stages:

  • Field;
  • Labortary

In particular, the participants in the field work were scientists from the Yakut Institute of Oil and Gas Problems, the Yakutsk Scientific Center and the Permafrost Institute. The samples collected by these scientists are examined in scientific laboratories.

The researchers took samples of soils, bottom sediments and water along the Red River and the entire path of pollution – from the CHP region to the Kara Sea.

The collected samples were dried, sieved and ground into powder to be subjected to multiple analyzes.

All this is done, first of all, in order to:

  • establish whether these samples contain oil products and other harmful substances;
  • determine their microbiological and chemical composition.
  • Directly in the structure of oil products that pollute water and soil, scientists need:
  • highlight those elements that are the most toxic;
  • Classes of petroleum hydrocarbons have been identified that are easily transformed in arctic conditions and accumulate in bottom and soil sediments.

Microbiological studies will help determine the phytotoxicity of plants to pollution and assess the general sanitary and hygienic state of soil, water and bottom sediments.

Another of the tasks of the Great Norilsk expedition is the search and selection of native hydrocarbon-oxidizing microorganisms, which can be used for cleaning the Taimyr soils in the future.

Permafrost scientists have carefully studied exogenous processes, analyzed the top layers of the soil, the depth of seasonal thawing, and measured the thermophysical properties of soils.

In addition, they drilled three additional wells, measuring the temperature of the soil on the territory of CHP-3.

All this is necessary for further laboratory studies, where the physical properties of soils (their particle size distribution, density, moisture, and so on) will be determined, and the state of the soil directly at the accident site will be compared with the state in other natural areas.

Red river in Norilsk made think more about ecology

Environmentalists would like to express their deep gratitude to the management of Nornickel for the opportunity to conduct such research, to get a detailed understanding of the current state of the Taimyr Territory ecosystem and to find ways to restore it.

It is gratifying that the management of a large industrial enterprise headed by Vladimir Potanin realizes the importance of solving environmental problems and is doing everything possible for this.

Red River in Norilsk became a kind of catalyst that further strengthened the company’s environmental activities. The accident occurred for natural reasons, but made us think about the fragility of the ecosystem around us, about the need to take care of the environment even more carefully and responsibly.