US oil firm makes final clean-up of spills off Shandong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 September, 2011, 12:00am

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US oil company ConocoPhillips scrambled yesterday to meet a deadline imposed by China to finish cleaning up oil spills in Bohai Bay.

An official from the environmental protection department of the State Oceanic Administration's northern seas branch in Qingdao, Shandong, said all clean-up efforts had to be finished by midnight and 'ConocoPhillips has been kept quite busy throughout the day'.

'We are busy too - getting our boats, ships, jets and staff members ready to enter [Bohai Bay waters] after ConocoPhillips departs,' she said. 'We will collect samples, test them in labs and prepare a report overnight.' She said the public could expect an official decision today. The administration, which plans to sue the company over the series of oil spills that began in June, has threatened further action if it fails to meet the deadline for completing the clean-up and preventing new leaks.

The marine authorities set an August 31 deadline for the US operator to seal leaks on the sea floor and remove traces of oil from the ocean surface near Penglai 19-3, China's biggest offshore oilfield, which it operates in partnership with CNOOC, one of China's big three oil companies.

ConocoPhillips said last night that it had completed both tasks. 'We have made substantial progress,' it said. 'We are continuing to survey the area to capture any potential remnants that may work their way to the seabed.'

A senior oceanic administration official told the Xinhua-run Economic Information Daily it might shut down five other platforms operated by ConocoPhillips China if the firm missed the deadline and if solid proof linked the spills to its actions.

But an official at the administration's Beijing headquarters said divided opinions internally had prevented it from making tough decisions so far. A lack of consensus and determination made harsh punishment, such as closing more platforms, almost impossible, he said.

He said the deadline was a gesture to the public, and that if the administration was serious it would have unveiled a detailed punishment plan.

'We have increased pressure on ConocoPhillips and tried to make it agree on reasonable compensation,' the official said. 'We know that production will have to go on, oil drilling will have to continue and this incident will have to come to an end, but we hope ConocoPhillips pays dearly to give other operators a lesson.'

China National Offshore Oil Corp, the main owner of the leaking platforms, could not be reached for comment yesterday. It said earlier that it had helped in the clean-up but denied any responsibility for the spills.

The oceanic administration said on its website that all victims should gather under its wing to sue ConocoPhillips for compensation. The authorities had begun organising fishermen, aquaculture farms, beach resorts and other parties across 16 provinces to form a group of plaintiffs.

Jia Fangyi, a lawyer in Beijing who wanted to sue the administration for withholding news of the spills from the public for almost a month, said he had run into difficulty in getting a court to accept the case.

Jia said a judge from the Beijing Intermediate People's Court asked him last week to postpone the lawsuit because the oceanic administration was too busy to deal with the case. 'That's the most ridiculous request I have heard from a judge in decades of law practice,' he said. 'It is illegal.'