U.S. firm reopens wells in Bohai Bay

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 September, 2011, 12:00am


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ConocoPhillips has reopened wells to ease reservoir pressure in China's biggest offshore oilfield, Penglai 19-3 in Bohai Bay, for the first time since the State Oceanic Administration suspended the companies' production early this month in the wake of a series of spills.

The US oilfield operator said yesterday that the plan was approved by the majority owner of the field, China National Offshore Oil Corp.

CNOOC, which owns 51 per cent of the field, said reopening the wells was the most effective way to ease reservoir pressure, protect the environment and protect the oil deposit.

But environmentalists said the operation - which will discharge oil, gas and water - might worsen the marine pollution caused by leaks at two platforms since June.

'The company needs to take measures to ease pressure, and reopening the wells is an option,' said Professor Wang Yamin, of the Marine College at Shandong University in Weihai. 'But there may be hidden risks during the operation, and the pressure in some underground oil layers may be altered.'

Ma Jun, director of the non-governmental Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said ConocoPhillips had committed many errors during previous operations and clean-up efforts, and urged that it be cautious during the reopening and drilling of the wells.

CNOOC said it had ordered tighter monitoring to ensure the latest work would not lead to fresh pollution, and that the operation would comply with the authorities' production suspension order. The work could prevent more oil leaks and was 'different from resuming production', it said. 'The pressure-easing plan has been discussed by internal and external experts ... the conclusion is that it is feasible and should be implemented as soon as possible.'

ConocoPhillips said it had not yet decided how many wells would be reopened, but drilling would be carried out at six wells at platforms B and C.

It said on August 19 that it had reduced pressure at some wells on platform B to minimise the risk of additional seepage, with the approval of the oceanic administration.

The administration suspended ConocoPhillips' production in Bohai Bay on September 2 after it failed to meet an August 31 deadline to seal the leaks and clean up following the pollution of 870 square kilometres of the bay. It also said ConocoPhillips' oil production practices had damaged the geophysical structure of Bohai Bay, and the company had violated environmental assessment requirements in operating platform C.

The administration could not be reached for comment yesterday, a public holiday on the mainland.

The State Administration of Work Safety said on Friday that it would launch a three-month inspection of the safety practices of energy exploration firms, including PetroChina and China Petrochemical Corp.

CNOOC has cut its full-year output estimate by about 9.3 per cent, as green groups call on it to make environmental protection a top priority.

'The problem of the oil spills is still not tackled three months later,' Greenpeace China campaigner Li Yan said. 'Reducing environmental damage should be the main task of every operation launched by the company.'