Transneft emergency response teams are taking part in elimination of the petroleum product spill near Norilsk.
High-class specialists of Transneft Siberia, who regularly participate in emergency response drills to contain emergency oil release on water surface, arrived at Norilsk. In 2019, they conducted large-scale drills on the Irtysh River to eliminate a simulated oil spill at the Ust-Balyk – Omsk oil trunk pipeline underwater crossing. Over 80 employees and 40 pieces of equipment were involved in the drill.
The High Arctic tundra near the Ambarnaya River in Krasnoyarsk Territory, always calm and deserted, looks unusual. Variegated rectangles of the tent camps and bright tanks for collecting petroleum product are seen on the banks. The streambed and its tributaries are sectioned by yellow and orange lines of booms; between them, the water surface is covered with rainbow spots of the spilled diesel fuel.
“Collection of Petroleum Product Began Mere 2 Hours Later”
On 29 May 2020, at CHP-3 owned by Norilsko-Taymyrskaya Energeticheskaya Kompaniya (Norilsk-Taimyr Energy Company), a leak of diesel fuel occurred due to loss of containment in one of the tanks. Employees of the CHP unsuccessfully tried to eliminate the leak on their own. As per the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resource Usage, out of the over 20,000 m3 of petroleum product spilled, about a quarter was absorbed by the soil, the rest flowed into the water. The pollution area, according to preliminary estimates, amounted to 180,000 m2. Fuel flowed to the Dyldykan and Ambarnaya local rivers. A few days later, the incident was recognised a federal-level emergency. The forces of the EMERCOM of Russia and the Marine Rescue Service, as well as of Transneft and GazpromNeft, which have extensive practical experience in this region, promptly joined the spill response effort.
On 5 June, the management and specialists of Transneft Siberia took a flight and arrived at the scene.
To participate in the elimination of the accident consequences, specialists of Transneft Siberia brought onsite everything they needed – their own equipment, boats, communications system, tent camp and food supplies.
“In order to save time, we combined the reconnaissance survey with the transfer of equipment and the first mobile team of 11 people,” says Victor Bronnikov, Director General of Transneft Siberia. “Having flown around the area and assessed the extent of the problem, we had our actions approved by the EMERCOM of Russia. We were allocated the Ambarnaya River contaminated section. Mere two hours after the landing, our first team from the Urengoy branch deployed oil skimming equipment and started working.”
On the next day, the total headcount of Transneft’s rescue team reached 40 people, and by 16 June, seven emergency response teams with a total of 102 people of the Urengoy, Surgut, Nefteyugansk, Nizhnevartovsk, Tobolsk and Noyabrsk Oil Trunk Pipeline Directorates and SDEPR (Specialised Directorate for Emergency Prevention and Response) were working at six boom lines. All specialists who arrived in Norilsk are professional emergency oil and petroleum products spills response specialists who comply with all the necessary Russian certification requirements for this type of activity.
Director General of Transneft Siberia Victor Bronnikov (second from left), together with rescuers, has been involved in management of the accident aftermath from the first days
Hunt for the Spill
Norilsk is located hundreds of kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. There are almost no proper roads here, rivers are mostly shallow, so it’s impossible to use heavy equipment and specialised water transport equipped with large tanks for collecting fuel, as this could harm nature. Therefore, the rescuers are collecting petroleum product almost manually using small equipment and rubber boats. 20 hours a day they work knee-deep in mud, waist-deep in cold water, and the smell of diesel seems to be forever absorbed not only in work clothes, but also in the very skin and hair.
The weather here is constantly changing. Following the fickle wind, the fuel masses time and again drift along the river from one direction to the other. The rescue teams hunt for them, quickly re-installing booms and relocating to places of the largest concentration of petroleum product.
“We adjust to the weather, are guided by the direction of the wind,” says Victor Bronnikov. “We relocate quickly. We are located almost in the delta of the Ambarnaya River. There are a lot of anabranches. The water level can vary greatly even during the day. When the wind blows from the north, the water rises about half a metre, when the wind drops, the water level drops to normal, and when the wind blows from the south, the water level decreases. This forces us to constantly monitor the booms and rearrange them depending on the weather.”
Petroleum product masses on the river surface moved with gusts of wind several times a day. The pipeliners hunted them, quickly relocating with all the equipment
“The height of the booms is 50 cm. This is enough to prevent the fuel from spreading downstream,” says Yevgeny Vakker, head of the Operation Section of Transneft Siberia. “A total of 820 metres of boom boundaries have been installed on our sites. We pump the collected fuel into tanks of 10 m3 and then place it into larger tanks with a volume of up to 250 m3.”
At the time of signing this issue, more than 9 thousand m3 of petroleum product have been collected from the surface of the river by Transneft Siberia’s emergency response teams.
Initially, Transneft’s pipeline teams used oil skimmers with a capacity of 20-30 m3 per hour, but it soon became apparent that the problem could not be dealt with promptly this way, since the volume of pollution was very large. Therefore, more powerful equipment with a capacity of up to 60 m3 per hour was delivered to the emergency site. As a result, the volumes of fuel collected quickly went up and amounted to more than a thousand cubic metres per day.
“The equipment we use was manufactured in Russia in accordance with the requirements of Transneft, and meets all environmental safety standards,” comments Victor Bronnikov. “It was produced for specific operational tasks and shows excellent results in practical application. The quality of petroleum product skimming reaches 99%, that is, almost the entire collected volume is diesel fuel, minimally diluted with water. We even use it to refuel our oil skimmers. The equipment is operated 24/7, we turn it off only for maintenance. And despite such extreme conditions, we have no breakdowns.”
The booms hold petroleum product on the water surface. During the operation near Norilsk, the pipeliners installed 18 cascades of booms with a total length of 870 m
Help Nature Survive
Working in the tundra is not easy due to mud, rains, changeable weather.
“The conditions do not scare us,” says Yevgeny Vakker. “We have facilities in Yamalo-Nenets Area in the Arctic, and the nature there is no different from the local one, so we have relevant experience.”
The rescuers’ living conditions are organised perfectly for the situation. There are a tent camp, a canteen and a bathhouse. The specialists’ residential tents are of modern design: only a compressor is required for their installation. Seven minutes, and a real house with windows and doors is ready. It is far from summer in the Arctic Circle region, so the company arranged winter tents.
“This is the first time I am part of such an operation,” says Dmitry Klimchik, a young man, Deputy Head of the Central Maintenance Division of the Urengoy Oil Trunk Pipeline Directorate. “However, work of this nature is not new to me. We constantly conduct emergency response drills on elimination of oil and petroleum products spills, so everyone here knows what and how to do.”
The weather in the tundra changes quickly; Transneft rescuers have had to work both in the rain and in a gusty wind
“Everyone knew where they were going and had a clear understanding of what awaited them here,” says Victor Bronnikov. “Everyone understands the task. We are working with maximum dedication, 24 hours a day. But at the same time, we take care of our people, of course. Everyone is interested in the common goal, and everyone understands that the faster we remove diesel from the water surface and the soil, the less damage the nature will suffer.”
It is in situations like this that the team spirit manifests itself the strongest. Where else can you see a director general dragging a generator motor and a general of the EMERCOM personally uncovering tanks for collecting fuel? Here, everyone is solving the common problem, without distinguishing between positions and organisations. A united team working for the common goal.