CNOOC denies oil cover-up

The country’s largest offshore oil and gas producer has strongly denied charges that it attempted to cover up oil spills off the coast of Shandong Province, insisting that the incident is now “under control.”

“The spills are under control and the oil leakage is almost cleared up. The incident is still under investigation, and we will publicize the results at an appropriate time,” China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) Limited spokesman Jiang Yongzhi told the Global Times on Monday, more than two weeks after a whistleblower reported the incident online. 

Quoting an anonymous insider with CNOOC, China National Radio reported Sunday that the spills occurred at the Penglai 19-3 oilfield in Bohai Bay and covered an area of 200 square meters.

However, the Shandong-based Luzhong Morning Post reported earlier that the spill had, at one point, grown into an “oil belt” about 3 kilometers long and up to 30 meters wide.

Jiang denied both reports and rejected accusations that CNOOC sought to cover up the accident.

“We reported the spills to related authorities soon after it took place and treatment of the spills are under supervision,” he said, without offering details.

Two oil spills reportedly occurred in June at the Penglai 19-3 oilfield. 

The field is jointly developed by CNOOC, which holds 51 percent of shares, and ConocoPhillips, which holds 49 percent, and is the third-largest integrated energy company in the US.

The latter is in charge of the drilling operation.

Penglai 19-3 oilfield started operations in 2002 and is the largest offshore field in China with a daily output of up to 165,000 barrels, reports said.
 
The State Oceanic Administration (SOA), which is responsible for investigating and evaluating the biological and environmental impact of ocean spills, was not available for comment on Monday, but is set to hold a press conference Tuesday.

Reports of the spills were first circulated on the Internet.

“Not sure how serious the Bohai oil spill accident will be. The pollution will be enormous,” a microblogger under the name Sun Shubing, who claimed to have taken part in marine rescue efforts in Tianjin, said on June 17 on his account on qq.com.

Little information was available until Friday, when ConocoPhillips China e-mailed a statement to the Beijing Times, claiming that the spills were under control and had not received any report of injuries and impact on marine life, fishery or shipment.

Some aquatic farms along the Bohai Bay reported more fish deaths in the past ten days.

“The death rate of fish has been higher than usual recently. I had no idea why that took place,” a woman surnamed Tian from the Yongxing Aquatic Company in Daqindao township, Shandong, 74 kilometers away from the oilfield, told the Global Times.

Another farmer, surnamed Sun, who also reported increased fish deaths, told the China Business Daily that they could not link the trend to the oil spills as they had not seen the oil yet.

Han Xiaoping, an energy analyst with china5e.net, said delayed measures could exacerbate ocean pollution and damage marine ecology.

“The Bohai Bay is an inland sea and has a weak self-clearance capability. The area is also home to a dense population and a large seafood production base, so oil spills there would be more destructive,” he said.

Han said State-owned monopoly companies are spoiled and do not deal with emergencies boldly enough or honestly admit errors.

Lin Boqiang, director of the Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, said it is supposed to inform the public promptly and give updated information on the accident.

“They should learn their lesson. A lack of transparency will lose public credibility and damage their image. And they will lose a lot when their stock drops,” Lin said.

On July 16 last year, oil leaked after two crude oil pipelines owned by China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) exploded in Dalian’s Xingang port, polluting a sea area of at least 50 square kilometers, and causing direct losses of 500 million yuan ($75.7 million) and huge losses to hundreds of aquatic farmers.

Zhu Shanshan contributed to this story

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