US oil giant told to stop operations as anger mounts
Mainland marine authorities lambasted US oil giant ConocoPhillips yesterday for being slack and ineffective in containing two major oil spills in Bohai Bay. They ordered the company to halt its operations in the nation's largest offshore oilfield amid mounting public anger.
The State Oceanic Administration said the spills off the coast of Shandong last month in the Penglai 19-3 oilfield, which ConocoPhillips operates with the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), had not been brought under control, as ConocoPhillips had announced last week.
While the administration's order looks set to deal a heavy blow to ConocoPhillips and CNOOC, which holds a 51 per cent interest in the oilfield, analysts said it was too early to tell if this would help repair the image of both companies and the government watchdog. All three parties are under mounting public criticism for keeping people in the dark for almost a month about the spills - among the worst the country has seen in decades.
The administration's embarrassing disclosure, along with an acknowledgement that the areas contaminated by the spills were a lot bigger than previously estimated, has prompted concerns about the authorities' ability to cope with the disaster and its environmental impact.
'There has been oil seeping continuously into the sea for days from platforms B and C in the Penglai 19-3 oilfield and there is still a slick in the surrounding marine areas,' the administration said. 'All the facts show that spill-control measures ConocoPhillips have taken so far are temporary, which are not enough to completely eliminate risks. Another spill could happen at any time, which poses a huge threat to the oceanic ecological environment.'
The administration said it told the US firm to stop operations at the platforms due to the 'severity, urgency and unpredictability' of the spills.
In a bid to appease public anger over the delay in disclosing the spills, and amid accusations of a cover-up, it said it had urged ConocoPhillips to keep the public updated about its clean-up effort.
Administration officials said a 4,240 square kilometre area of sea, about the size of Qinghai Lake, was polluted, Xinhua reported - much larger than the 840 square kilometre area it reported last week.
'The total production from these two platforms is approximately 47,000 barrels per day, one third of the production from the entire Penglai 19-3 field,' a ConocoPhillips spokesman said. It insisted it had done all it could to plug the leaks. The spokesman said the leak was only 'residual leakage from the seabed that will decline over time'.
CNOOC said yesterday that it had cleaned up a slick caused by a small-scale spill at the Suizhong 36-1 oilfield, also in Bohai Bay, on Tuesday.