Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

June 19, 2020

On Standby: Major Diesel Spill In Siberia

Site of the Norilsk Nickel power plant fuel leak. See larger map

Nearly 50 years ago, International Bird Rescue was created to respond to oil spills. Our supporters have come to expect that when there is a sizable spill, we will be there to offer our expertise in crisis management and aquatic bird care. Unfortunately, that is not always possible and it is difficult for us to stand on the sidelines when wildlife is in danger.

On June 4, 2020, a massive fuel spill occurred in a remote area of Russia, as a diesel oil storage tank collapsed at the Norilsk Nickel power plant sending diesel into a river. It is believed that a prolonged heat wave melted permafrost beneath the storage tank’s footings. At least 21,000 metric tons of diesel fuel has stained the Ambanaya watershed in the Siberian Arctic ecosystem.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared a State of Emergency as that area is part of a watershed linked to the Arctic Ocean, but he has not thus far reached out for international support. See map

Emergency response of this scale is only possible with the invitation and cooperation of the government and a responsible party being willing to cover the costs.

Further, human safety is of utmost importance, and the needed resources to stand up a full-scale wildlife response can be next to impossible in a very remote location like this one.

While we have been in touch with our international partners, none has yet been asked to participate. This group includes leading experts trying to solve the challenges of oiled wildlife outside of currently covered geographies. Russia’s far north is a perfect example of an uncovered geography which the group was created to cover. At this point, reports suggest that workers are focused on containing and removing the fuel in a very remote area with few roads – more than 1200 miles NE of Moscow. We will remain on standby in case we are needed.

The kind of fuel that was spilled – diesel – is lighter and less easily corralled than heavier forms like crude oil (as was the case in the Deepwater Horizon Spill in 2010). Making things worse, diesel evaporates more slowly at cooler temperatures. This means both that initial harm to nearby wildlife would have been severe and, as with any petroleum product, animal welfare would continue to be a concern.

Going forward we continue to strive to work collaboratively on preparedness and planning along with petroleum companies, government entities, and other NGO partners to ensure wildlife emergency response efforts can save animals in harm’s way.

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