Mining giant owned by Russia’s richest man pays record $2 billion fine after fuel spill damages swathes of pristine Arctic land

Russian mining giant Norilsk Nickel has fully paid a $2 billion fine for damage caused by what has been called the largest oil spill “in the history of mankind.” Last year, over 20,000 tonnes of diesel leaked into water and soil.

Last month, a Russian court decided that the company must pay 145.5 billion rubles ($1.97 billion) to the federal budget for water damage, with a further combined 1.3 billion rubles ($18 million) to local government entities. The company opted not to appeal, despite initially arguing the figure should be much less.

The owner of Norilsk Nickel, Vladimir Potanin, is Russia’s richest man, with Forbes estimating his fortune at a massive $19.7 billion. Last year, following the disaster, his net worth dropped by over $4 billion.

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The accident, which happened on May 29 last year at a power plant in the Arctic city of Norilsk, saw more than 20,000 tonnes of fuel released into the environment after a diesel tank began to leak. Pictures from the disaster showed that the oil had turned nearby rivers red, also damaging fragile permafrost.

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20,000-ton Norilsk Arctic diesel spill disaster is worst in ‘the history of mankind,’ Russian government official reveals 20,000-ton Norilsk Arctic diesel spill disaster is worst in ‘the history of mankind,’ Russian government official reveals

According to Rostekhnadzor, the federal watchdog that investigated the incident, there had been numerous faults with the tank, and the blame was firmly placed on NTEK, a Norilsk Nickel subsidiary.

Norilsk is around 3,000km northeast of Moscow and is the world’s second-biggest city inside the Arctic Circle. The contaminated area is approximately 180,000 square meters, with oil products also being detected in Lake Pyasino, a large freshwater lake frozen for the majority of the year. The diesel even seeped into nearby reservoirs that supply water to the local population.

Last year, Russia’s first deputy minister of emergency situations revealed that the leak accident had broken the record for the largest of all time.

“In the history of mankind, such a quantity of liquid diesel fuel has never leaked out,” Alexander Chupriyan, noting that the disaster taught his ministry that it needed equipment that not only pumps “salty and polluted water, but also oil products.”

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