Russia’s state environmental watchdog said Monday that metals giant Norilsk Nickel should pay an unprecedented $2 billion in damages over a huge Arctic fuel spill.
Rosprirodnadzor said it had sent a request for “voluntary compensation” to a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, NTEK, estimating the damage to Arctic subsoil and water resources at 147.8 billion rubles ($2.05 billion).
Norilsk Nickel’s Moscow-listed shares fell by nearly 5 percent Monday evening.
Controlled by Russia’s richest man Vladimir Potanin, the company is the world’s largest producer of nickel and palladium.
The amount of the fine is equal to a third of its net profit in 2019.
A Norilsk Nickel spokeswoman said the company had not yet received the papers from Rosprirodnadzor.
Aluminum producer Rusal, which owns 28 percent in Norilsk Nickel, said it found the size of the fine “unexpected” and “unprecedented,” adding it hoped a board meeting would be convened urgently to discuss the matter.
“We are sure that shareholders will be able to jointly find a solution in this difficult situation,” a Rusal spokeswoman said in a statement.
A national-level state of emergency was announced after 21,000 tons of diesel fuel spilled from a reservoir that collapsed in May outside the Arctic city of Norilsk, polluting huge stretches of river in remote tundra with bright red patches visible from space.
Russia’s natural resources minister said the fine reflected the huge damages caused by the spill.
“The scale of the damage to Arctic water resources is unprecedented,” Dmitry Kobylkin was quoted as saying in a statement on Monday.
Kobylkin drew comparisons to one of the worst oil spills in US history – the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska which, he pointed out, cost Exxon Mobil more than $5 billion in punitive damages.
President Vladimir Putin has said he expected Norilsk Nickel to fully restore the environment.
Potanin had earlier estimated that the clean-up would cost about 10 billion rubles, on top of any fines.
“We will spend whatever is needed,” he said.
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