A staggering 20,000 tonnes of diesel has leaked into the Ambarnaya river near the Siberian city of Norilsk last Friday. The spillage was traced to a power plant owned by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, the world’s leading producer of nickel and palladium.
Details of how the accident happened are still being investigated, with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin allegedly not being informed for several days.
The leaked oil is believed to have drifted roughly 7.5 miles (12km) from the accident site.
Images taken by Copernicus, the European Space Agency’s satellite constellation, shows diesel oil clearly visible in the Ambarnaya on both May 31 and June 1 – easily identifiable in crimson red.
The river flows into Lake Pyasino, which is a major body of water and source of the Pysaina River.
Efforts are underway to clean up the 180,000 square metre area.
Russia’s Emergencies Ministry said: “As of now, the diesel fuel spill has been contained and over 200 tonnes of fuel and lubricants have been collected.”
Former deputy head of Rosprirodnadzor Oleg Mitvol told BBC News: “There has never been such an accident in the Arctic zone.”
Russia has been flexing its muscles in the Arctic in recent years, having identified it as a key strategic area.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies highlighted the increasing strategic importance of the Arctic in its Strategic Study 2018, published in November, pointing to “restrictions placed on the export or sale of technology for use in deep-water exploration, Arctic exploration of unconventional shale production”.
The report added: “A key question for the Russian oil and gas industry remains what will happen in the longer term as Soviet-era fields run dry.”
The Arctic has also witnessed numerous Russian military exercises in recent months.
The Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet announced a missile battalion attached to its tactical group, armed with Bastion coastal defense systems and stationed on the Alexandra Land of the Franz Joseph Land archipelago in the Arctic, had passed a final check for the winter training period.
A statement issued by the fleet’s press office explained: “During the final check, the missile troops practiced going on alert, preparing the hardware and bringing it out of hangars, making a march and deploying Bastion launchers in a positioning area on the coast of the Barents Sea.”
Copernicus Sentinel-2 is a two-satellite mission to supply the coverage and data delivery needed for Europe’s Copernicus programme.
The mission’s frequent revisits over the same area and high spatial resolution allow changes in water bodies to be closely monitored.