Arctic rivers turn red as shocking videos show catastrophic scale of environmental disaster after 20,000 tonnes of fuel leaked from a Russian power station

  • Aerial images show the extent of the spill stretching up the Ambarnaya River for miles and turning it red
  • Russian workers at the spill are fighting to get it under control and to stem the spread of pollution
  • Environmentalists have said it could take decades to clean up and cost over one billion pounds
  • The spill occurred on May 29 but local authorities were slow to alert the government, infuriating the President
  • Vladimir Putin publicly dressed down officials on a video call, sarcastically questioning one’s health

These shocking images show the catastrophic scale of an Arctic diesel spill that has turned rivers red after 20,000 tonnes of fuel leaked from a Russian power station. 

Shocking overhead videos reveal the horror unfolding in the Ambarnaya River near Norilsk in the Russian Arctic as one expert forecast the clean-up cost will reach £1.16 billion.  

There are fears the pollution could spread to the Great Arctic State Nature Reserve, the largest nature reserve in both Russia and the Eurasian continent, and damage fish stocks for generations.

A diesel reservoir collapsed at a power station outside the northern Siberian city of Norilsk on Friday, releasing vast quantities of fuel into the river and surrounding soil, according to Russia’s state environmental watchdog.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a state of emergency to deal with the disaster. 

Putin was furious that he was not informed of the spill earlier, and on Wednesday he publicly scolded officials and oil managers over a video conference call for having to hear about the spill on social media, and for their handling of the crisis.

The scale of the spill has been compared to the Exxon Valdez accident near Alaska in 1989, in which an oil tanker spilled 10.8 million US gallons of crude oil into the ocean

The damage to the Ambarnaya River near Norilsk in the Russian Arctic, pictured, could be so severe it could take over a decade and over a billion pounds to clean up

Satellite images shared from over the area show the true scale of the crisis, with the diesel stretching up the river for miles

Videos from the scene highlight how the river is now covered in a crimson-coloured toxic layer of diesel, some 1,860 miles northeast of Moscow.

Officials now fear the only way to clear the pollution is to set it ablaze, which would cause a second environmental horror.  

While Putin expressed outrage at the slow response to the crisis, the leak is believed to have been caused by melting permafrost causing major subsidence, damaging the giant power station tank containing the poisonous diesel, which then caught fire and spewed into local rivers.


Pictured: Satellite images show the diesel spill stretching up the river for miles. Environmentalists fear the pollution could spread to the Great Arctic State Nature Reserve, the largest nature reserve in both Russia and the Eurasian continent, and damage fish stocks for generations

An aerial image of the river that has turned red due to the diesel that has spilled into it from a nearby power station’s oil tank in Russia. The leak happened on May 29, 2020

Emergency marine rescue workers are battling to control the spill by blocking the river to stop the flow of the diesel. Pictured: A barrier in the water that crosses from one side of the river to the other has for now stopped the crimson diesel from spreading further down river

Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 3 ordered a state of emergency and criticised a subsidiary of metals giant Norilsk Nickel after a massive diesel spill into the river. The spill of over 20,000 tonnes of diesel fuel took place on May 29 2020

This is seen as the result of polar warming and poses major questions for Russia’s oil and gas operations across a vast swathe of the Arctic.

‘It will take more than ten years to reach an acceptable level of recovery,’ warned Greenpeace Climate and Energy Project Coordinator Vasily Yablokov.

Former deputy head of environmental watchdog Rosprirodnadzor, Oleg Mitvol, said: ‘The spill of diesel fuel is significantly different from the spill of oil. Oil goes on the surface of the water, (but) diesel is immersed in the upper layers until it settles to the bottom.’

He forecast a £1.16 billion clean up bill.

A fuel reservoir collapsed at a power plant near the city of Norilsk, located above the Arctic Circle, and leaked into the nearby Ambarnaya River

The leak is believed to have been caused by melting permafrost causing major subsidence, damaging the giant power station tank containing the poisonous diesel, which then caught fire and spewed into local rivers. Pictured: Emergency vehicles past the power station near the city of Norilsk, around 1,800 miles away from Moscow on June 3 2020

Vladimir Putin has declared a state of emergency in a region of Siberia after an estimated 20,000 tons of diesel fuel spilled from a power plant storage facility, pictured from above on June 3, and fouled waterways

Russia is said to be throwing huge resources at the spill in an attempt to limit the impact on the Arctic environment, which President Putin has worked to clean up during his time as Prime Minister. One official suggested setting the diesel alight, but could cause another crisis

Russia was today throwing huge resources into seeking to limit the damage to the pristine Arctic tundra.

Emergencies minister Yevgeny Zinichev said the first he knew about the catastrophe was on 31 May – two days after it occurred.

Sergey Lipin the technocrat in charge of the leaking diesel container, told President Putin that normal procedures had been used to notify the authorities.

The governor of vast Krasnoyarsk region, Alexander Uss claimed it was ‘only after the appearance of disturbing information on social networks and persistent questions (that) the real picture was clarified on Sunday morning’.

The scale of the spill has been compared to the Exxon Valdez accident near Alaska in 1989, in which an oil tanker spilled 10.8 million US gallons of crude oil into the ocean.

In a tense televised conference call on the mounting crisis near Norilsk the angry Kremlin leader demanded: ‘Why did the authorities learn about it only two days later?

‘Are we to learn about emergencies from social media?’

With officials and oil executives squirming in fear, he sarcastically berated Lipin, saying: ‘Are you all right health-wise? Please, explain, Sergey,’ before demanding why why the authorities were not notified ‘immediately’.

On a video conference call on June 3 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin (pictured) gave a public dressing down of local officials, and was said to turn ‘pale’ with fury during the exchanges where he questioned local officials over their handling of the crisis

Lipin insisted they were, claiming he stuck to an existing ‘oil spill response plan’, but this was contradicted by senior officials.

Putin also laid into Uss, for not having a clear strategy to deal with the pollution. The nervous looking 65 year old told Putin they may have to collect and incinerate the diesel.

‘We have no experience in burning such a volume of fuel, at least in Krasnoyarsk region, so I can’t predict that this will be successful… My report is over.’

The Russian president, 67, shot back: ‘What do you mean your report is over… what is to be done? You are the governor.’

Putin – who declared a federal state of emergency over the leak – was described as turning ‘pale’ with fury during the exchanges.

Putin uses public dressing downs of officials to show his authority but he appeared especially irked over the languid response to damage in the Arctic which he has sought to clean up during his presidency.

The private plane of pro-Putin oligarch Vladimir Potanin – who controls giant Norilsk Nickel which owns the company responsible for the leak – was reported to be flying back to Russia from Berlin today.

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