Ministries and agencies probe Bohai Sea oil spills

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 August, 2011, 12:00am


The central government has finally weighed in on the Bohai Sea oil-spill controversy, two months after the first spill was detected, in an apparent attempt to turn up the heat on US-based oil company ConocoPhillips amid growing public impatience.

Six ministries and State Council agencies, including the ministries of Agriculture, Energy and Environment, have joined the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) in a probe into the controversy, The Beijing News reported yesterday.

The spills at the country's largest offshore oilfield, Penglai 19-3, have resulted in one of the nation's worst marine contaminations in decades, but the leaks have yet to be brought under control, as the maritime watchdog and the US operator of the rigs are locked in a dispute.

The joint task force, which met on Friday for the first time, has urged ConocoPhillips China to take effective measures to repair leaks, 'eliminate risks of further spills and guarantee that no new harm would be done to the marine environment', the newspaper report said.

The North China Sea branch of the SOA said it had received reports from ConocoPhillips China that at least nine new sources of leaked oil have been found in the areas within 15 metres north of one of the rigs, Xinhua reported.

Analysts said the discovery of new spills had raised further questions about the US company's ability to stop the leakage by the end of this month, as SOA demanded last week.

But the US firm said in a press release that it had cleaned up 90 per cent of the total volume leaked from the rigs and the clean-up was expected to be finished this month.

The company also said the volume of the continuing spills was estimated at about 2 litres per day, and the company included a photo showing that one of the leaks was about the size of a diver's finger.

Greenpeace China campaigner Li Yan said the company had yet to respond truthfully to widespread public doubts about the scale of the spills and the extent of the impact the contamination has had on both the marine environment and the people living along the affected coast.

'As long as the company still dodges the key questions, it will be hard for the public to take its clean-up promises seriously,' she said.

Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said the company had yet to show adequate sincerity in tackling the crisis.

While ConocoPhillips China has insisted that there is 'no evidence that any of the oil sheen itself made it to shore', its president, Georg Storaker, nonetheless admitted in the same statement that 'there has been a very minimal amount [of oil] that has reached the shoreline'.

'The contradictory remarks show the company is still trying to defend itself and avert its responsibility,' Ma said.