A man looks at an oil slick off the coast of Tianjin in North China on August 3. Authorities can not confirm whether it was the result of oil spills in Bohai Bay. Photo: CFP
The botched handling of two oil leaks in China’s Bohai Bay has earned ConocoPhillips China (COPC) a scolding from the country’s ocean watchdog.
On Wednesday, the North China Sea branch of the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) asked COPC to explain why it failed to clean up the oil and mud mixtures from the seabed in a timely fashion and said the company must apologize.
The branch has also urged the company to hand in a comprehensive assessment report detailing its clean-up efforts.
ConocoPhillips missed a deadline for recovering oil-soaked mud leaked from Platform C of the Penglai 19-3 oilfield on Sunday because workers found new mud during cleanup work. According to the SOA, at its largest the leak covered 3,240 square kilometers of seawater in Bohai Bay.
The company said on August 5 it had discovered 32 cubic meters of oil-soaked drilling mud near a leaking platform, in addition to a previously discovered 180 cubic meters, which it said had been cleaned up.
The company estimated the total number of oil leaks is likely to be about 1,700 barrels.
The spills were first reported in June. They have been spreading to beaches in North China’s Hebei Province and northeastern Liaoning Province. The spills have been blamed for losses in tourism and aquatic farming industries.
“ConocoPhillips has not provided any solutions on how to completely stop the oil leak. The measures they have been taking are only temporary solutions,” Liu Fenglin, director of the North China Sea Branch’s press office, said to the Global Times.
Oil-drilling operations in the field are jointly conducted by ConocoPhillips China and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), the country’s largest offshore oil producer.
According to SOA, Bohai had 12 small-scale oil leaks in Bohai in 2008, outnumbering other waters in the South and East China Sea.
“It seems that the number of polluted areas is not very large but it is still too soon to assess how much of an impact the leak will have on the environment,” Zhu Shengfeng, an oil leak management expert, told the Global Times.
Containing rich natural resources, oil fields in Bohai Bay and other offshore oilfields including Shengli, Dagang and Liaohe make up China’s second largest oil supply providing 50 percent of the oil and gas for industry.
The advantageous location has prompted government to build oil-dependent heavy industries in cities around Bohai Bay, adding great environmental pressure to Bohai, experts said.
According to official statistics, the city of Tianjin has re-zoned 107 square kilometers of land for a port servicing west Bohai Bay. The city is also planning to conduct another round of land re-zoning within the next five years.
Elsewhere in Hebei Province, 180 square kilometers of land has been reclaimed to build the Caofeidian industrial zone, where two State-owned steel companies have carried out production, according to Economic Information published by the Xinhua News Agency.
“This enthusiasm toward ocean development is unprecedented,” Liu Hongbin, a professor with the Ocean University of China said, to the Economic Information newspaper. “Every region has a great demand for offshore space and I personally believe that coastal regions have taken too broad of steps,” Liu added.
From 1996 to 2007 around 715 square kilometers of wetlands around Bohai disappeared, which means the regions along Bohai have lost 2-10 percent of their pollution reduction capacity.
Rampant construction impacts on the environment have been seen in recent years.
Water quality in Bohai has continuously worsened with grade four water, the lowest kind of sea water ranking, increasing by 4.1 percent last year compared to the year before, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said in a report last year.
“The fact that all similar industries like steel and petrol are all drawn to the Bohai area is because of the existence of local resources,” Huang Zhengxue, deputy director at the institute of land resources development and regional economy research center under the National Development and Reform Commission said.