Ministry Says Geology Mostly To Blame for Uralkali's Flood

Geological circumstances were the main cause of a flood in 2006 at a potash mine owned by Uralkali that endangered a key rail link for exporters, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry said Friday.

"Geology was the main factor ... that caused the accident," said Boris Krasnykh, deputy head of the country's industrial-safety watchdog, an e-mailed statement from the ministry shows. He is heading the investigation into the accident's cause. Some technical violations at the site occurred in the Soviet era, the statement said.

An initial inquiry in 2006 found that the flood stemmed from natural causes. Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin reopened the probe in November without giving a reason. Damages of more than 3.1 billion rubles ($86 million) may be owed to the state and Russian Railways, Uralkali said Wednesday.

The renewed investigation said that "if the subsoil user had been systematically conducting geological surveys, the abnormal structure of the water-resistant section in the area of the accident" might have been found earlier, Uralkali said last week, citing a state report.

Aggregate costs linked with the flood will be determined within a month, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Yury Trutnev said Friday, Interfax reported. He also said only a court could decide how much Uralkali should pay, rather than the state.

The ministry plans to draft a law that will enable the government to recover damages from subsoil users for mineral reserves left unusable because of accidents, Trutnev was cited as saying.

A 2.5-kilometer railroad bypass around a sinkhole created after the mine flooded is unnecessary, the ministry said, and a 53-kilometer bypass will be built. Damages from the flood may be between 20 billion rubles ($550 million) and 104 billion rubles, Vedomosti reported Feb. 2.