Ten days ago, a section of the Ambarnaya River in Siberia, Russia began turning bright red, forcing Vladimir Putin to order a state of emergency. Though everything that happens in the world does so out of God’s will, there was a much more mundane immediate cause for the shocking change of color: Twenty thousand tonnes of diesel fuel spilled into the river from a power plant’s fuel reservoir at a near the city of Norilsk, 190 miles north of the Arctic Circle, that had collapsed three days prior due to melting permafrost under its supporting pillars. This is one of the biggest oil product accidents ever to have occurred in the Russian Arctic.
The oil spill is moving downstream with 7.5 miles of the river already affected. It now poses a major threat to Lake Pyasino and may leak into the Artic Ocean. Russian government sources translated by Reuters said the river will need “decades” to recover from the damage.
Russian investigators charged Vyacheslav Starostin, the director of the power plant, with violating environmental protection rules. He faces up to five years in jail if found guilty.
Due to the many factories operated by the company, the world’s largest producer of nickel and palladium, the area has become one of the most polluted places on the planet. As a result, blood red is not an entirely unusual shade for rivers in that section of Siberia and this same Biblically inspired scene appeared in the Daldykan River in 2016.
Казни египетские. Норильск, река Купец вблизи завода “Надежда”. pic.twitter.com/X3Oc2wtfRq
— Юрий Мережко (@yoorashka) September 7, 2016
The president of Russia was not quite as sanguine as Pharoah was reported to have been when the Nile turned blood red. “Why did government agencies only find out about this two days after the fact?” Putin asked. “Are we going to learn about emergency situations from social media? Are you alright health-wise over there?”
On Saturday, the government of the United States offered to help Russia clean up the fuel spill.
“Saddened to hear about the fuel spill in Norilsk, Russia,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote on Twitter. “Despite our disagreements, the United States stands ready to assist Russia to mitigate this environmental disaster and offer our technical expertise.”