No sooner had Nornickel [the world's largest producer of palladium and one of the largest producers of nickel, platinum, and copper] paid a huge fine for last year's diesel fuel spill on the Taimyr Peninsula than The Federal Agency for Fishery (Rosrybolovstvo) demanded in a legal claim that Nornickel be fined some 60 billion rubles ($820.21 mln) for the damage caused to aquatic bioresources.
At the end of May 2020, an oil spill occurred at Norilsk-Taimyr Energy's Thermal Power Plant No. 3, owned by Nornickel. One of the tanks burst and 20,000 tonnes of diesel fuel poured into the tundra. This was the worst industrial disaster in the Arctic in the entire history of its development. An inspection showed that the plant infrastructure was worn out and the company had been saving money on repairs. Of course, the thawing of the ground as a result of global warming was a contributing factor, too, on which Nornickel lawyers insisted.
It seems that the decision to punish the holding was made by top government officials. The company had to pay 146 billion rubles ($2 bln) to meet the claim of the Federal Service for Supervision of Nature Resources. The sum of the fine is a measure of damage to the soil and local rivers. To save Nornickel's image, its owner Vladimir Potanin promised to invest hundreds of billions of rubles in the rebuilding of Norilsk to make it a real garden-city in the next few years.
As it turns out, it was not the end of the story. The other day Rosrybolovstvo filed a new lawsuit against Potanin. Even before the accident, it claimed that damage had been caused to the northern fish fauna, and that the local water bodies, the Daldykan and Pyasina rivers as well as Lake Pyasino, would need decades to recover. Consequently, Nornickel had to pay for the killed fish and the expenses to restore fish populations.
Damage assessment was conducted by the All-Russian Fisheries and Oceanography Research Institute. In volume terms, it was estimated almost at 9 mln kg of fish. In money terms, it will be 3.6 billion rubles ($49.21 mln.) However, this is only the beginning.
“In addition to one-time compensation, the loss of biomass should be compensated by artificial reproduction of juveniles of valuable fish species of the West Siberian fishery basin to stock natural water bodies affected by the man-made accident. Implementation of compensatory measures on such a scale will require the construction of at least three fish farms in the basin of the Norilo-Pyasinskaya lake and river system. The total cost of restoration of disturbed aquatic biological resources in the Norilo-Pyasinskaya lake and river system will amount to about 40 billion rubles ($546.8 mln), not including expenses for construction of fish farms,” the press service of VNIRO told wek.ru.
In the final lawsuit, Rosrybolovstvo seeks a compensation of 58.6 billion rubles ($801.1 mln). As follows from the statement of claim submitted to the Arbitration Court of the Krasnoyarsk territory, the agency offers to pay 55 billion rubles ($751.9 mln) to the budget of the Taimyr municipal district, and the rest to the budget of Norilsk. A preliminary hearing will take place on September 3. The company's position is the following: Rosrybolovstvo overstates the sum of compensation by several times. Nornickel has assessments of other experts who provided different estimates. Earlier, the holding voiced the same opinion when the court considered Rosprirodnadzor’s claim. However, Nornickel’s arguments did not help.
By the way, voices in support of Nornickel have already been heard in the Krasnoyarsk territory. It is the main taxpayer of the area, which has already paid for its fault like no other company in Russia. Will it do good if it is bled dry through lawsuits?
“If the country makes environmental regulations stricter and imposes regulatory costs on the monitored companies, they will try to pass the increased costs on to their customers. That is a good thing from an environmental perspective because one of the reasons for wanting to impose higher standards is to discourage the consumption of environmentally destructive products on a first-priority basis. Rising prices will do just that. However, companies might not be able to pass on the increased costs to their customers if the product in question is widely traded and there are imported substitutes available on the world market. In such cases, the company will lose its market share if they try to raise prices. Foreign competitors will sell at lower prices in both domestic and export markets. This issue of loss of competitiveness should be of economic concern if one declares his commitment to improve the industry's environmental standards,” says Konstantin Prosekin, head of the Taymyr Nature Reserves.