Let's say right away: the amount of 146 billion rubles is unprecedented in the history of environmental fines imposed by the state environmental department.
Recall that on May 29, one of the tanks with diesel fuel at the Norilsk CHPP-3 was damaged due to a sharp subsidence of the foundation supports, which led to the leakage of about 21 thousand tons of fuel. Oil products got into several reservoirs, an emergency regime was introduced.
CHPP-3 belongs to Norilsk-Taimyr Energy Company (NTEK), a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel. In the parent organization, the main cause of the accident was warming in permafrost conditions.
However, this version of the accident with reference to "objective" circumstances did not convince not only independent environmentalists, but also Rosprirodnadzor, which estimated the damage to the environment at almost 148 billion rubles. Norilsk Nickel did not agree with the calculation methodology and conducted its own expertise, which gave a seven times less figure - 21.4 billion rubles.
Based on the results of the investigation, Rostechnadzor concluded that the cause of the accident was shortcomings in the design of the pile foundation of the reservoir, as well as defects in its construction and deterioration of equipment. Also, the department revealed violations during the examination of industrial safety in 2018.
According to Potanin, the accident could have occurred due to abnormally warm weather, as a result of which the permafrost thawed, and the supports of the fuel tank sagged. But Rostekhnadzor was persistent and did not find signs of permafrost degradation under the foundation and in the adjacent territory.
Rostekhnadzor stated that mistakes were made in the design and construction of the reservoir: the load on it was distributed unevenly. In 2015, the tank was taken out for repairs, so state supervision over it was suspended. In 2019, its operation was resumed, but without meeting the necessary safety requirements and notifying the regulatory authorities.
The department also found violations in the activities of the expert commission that worked with the reservoir. The Commission authorized the operation of the tank until September 2022 and issued an opinion allowing an increase in the filling level by a quarter.
Thus, the Arbitration Court fully agreed with the arguments of Rosprirodnadzor and its head Svetlana Radionova, who personally attended the court hearings.
Observers note the uncompromising position of the head of Rosprirodnadzor. At the end of January, for example, she announced that she was "not even ready to consider" a peace deal with Norilsk Nickel. On Friday, February 5, Radionova wrote on her Instagram page:
"Friday. Krasnoyarsk. There are more and more documents and persons involved in the court. And we are monotonously and clearly defending our position: the trains of oil products trapped in the fragile Arctic zone are a weighty reason for recovering the damage caused. Probably, I repeat, these posts are not so bright and interesting. But the only important thing is that for the first time in the history of Russia we loudly declare: ecology is everyone's business!!! And the polluter pays!"
It is not yet known whether Norilsk Nickel will continue the litigation. But it is known that the enterprises have already created a reserve of $ 2.1 billion to pay the fine. Compensation for damage will be credited to the federal budget, in accordance with amendments to the Budget Code introduced in July last year.
Let us also remind that after what happened in Norilsk, Vladimir Putin instructed to fundamentally change environmental legislation towards tougher sanctions against violators.
The compensation case won against Norilsk Nickel pleasantly surprised even traditional opponents and critics of the environmental agency.
Yelena Sakirko, Head of the Energy Department of Greenpeace Russia:
“The size of the claims of Rosprirodnadzor against the subsidiary company Norilsk Nickel, which was upheld by the court today, can be comparable to the actual damage to the environment. In Russia, accidents involving oil and oil products spills regularly occur. Some of these incidents do not even get into the official statistics, but if the company fails to hide the leak, then compensation for damage and the amount of fines often do not correspond to the consequences - dead forests, lack of fish in rivers - grave consequences for the entire ecosystem. Accidents often occur on the lands of indigenous peoples, which leads to the loss of the ability to continue the traditional way of life in the disturbed territories. Today's court is in many ways a precedent that can help to truly solve environmental problems at the system level".
Alexander Kolotov, head of the public environmental organization Plotina, Russian coordinator of the international environmental coalition Rivers without Borders:
“The most important thing is that this compensation is really fully spent on environmental protection measures in the Arctic. As we remember, the State Duma after the accident in Norilsk adopted special amendments that such compensations go directly to the federal budget. Probably, it is necessary to track all the consequences that this spill brought about for the arctic nature has been adequately compensated for.
The court's decision on such significant compensation after the accident at the thermal power plant in Norilsk will be a signal for other companies as well.
It seems to me that after the court sided with Rosprirodnadzor and, in fact, nature, the management of other companies should think: maybe it is cheaper to invest in infrastructure modernization than to expose themselves to the risk of such fines".
Nikolay Nikolayev, the head of the Center for Monitoring the Execution of Presidential Decrees "Narodnaya ekspertiza" ("People's Expertise") of the ONF, deputy of the State Duma of the Russian Federation:
"I only welcome the decision of the Krasnoyarsk Arbitration Court. It is absolutely unprecedented. If you look at the global level of compensation, the amount assigned to be paid - almost 147 billion - is adequate. I believe that the decision is correct, very significant and brings the issue of liability of subsoil users to another level For the state of the environment. Another thing is important. First, you need to get this money. A court decision is very good, but you also need to get it. And secondly, what is important, and we have raised this issue many times, the funds received should be used precisely at the elimination of the consequences of the spill. And not just directed, the whole society must know and understand what exactly was done, how, when, how much it cost. I believe that a good start has been made on a great and right path".
Vasily Bogoslovsky, General Director of the International Ecological Fund "Chistye Morya" ("Clean Seas"):
“When making such court decisions, as a rule, the user of nature will delay the execution as long as possible in order to get a respite. The amount is really very large, it is very difficult to recover it. But in any case, the decision is fair, absolutely balanced. I don’t remember such large fines. This will be the first time.
Six months ago, when the disaster struck, many media outlets accused Rosprirodnazor of almost collusion with the leadership of Norilsk Nickel. Nevertheless, it was they who managed to achieve today's court decision and the appointment of an unprecedentedly high fine.
What could be a conspiracy if such a calculation was issued? We were not involved in this work, but we kept our finger on the pulse. My experts, who have no reason not to trust me, told me that the damage was calculated according to our methods. Today our techniques are even tougher than abroad. For the future, this is a very serious signal to those who believe that in remote areas it is possible not to change old technologies, work on Soviet-era equipment and not care about the environment.
I consider today's decision to be practically revolutionary. In my memory, this was not. Many enterprises will revise their technical policies, especially in inaccessible places, where they previously hoped that the controllers would not get there. I see that the situation is improving".