The undisclosed oil leak from the Penglai 19-3 oilfield in the Bohai Gulf has spread over 840 square kilometers, an area more than four million times larger than CNOOC initially claimed. (Internet Photo)
Officials have admitted that an oil spill from an offshore drilling rig in northeastern China for two weeks last month has spread over 840 square kilometers, an area more than four million times larger than claimed by the operating company.
China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) was previously quoted by the press as saying the affected area was only about 200 square meters. China's government said ConocoPhillips China, a subsidiary of the Houston-based energy giant that operates the rigs with CNOOC, should take the blame for the incident.
Residents and fishermen were only informed of the spill on July 1, more two weeks after it occurred.
Li Xiaoming, environmental protection head at the State Oceanic Administration, on Tuesday (July 5) confirmed that the leak from the Penglai 19-3 oilfield in the Bohai Gulf, the country's largest offshore oil discovery, has polluted 840 square kilometres of water.
Both CNOOC and the Chinese government have held ConocoPhillips, the main operator at the oilfield, chiefly responsible for the spill.
ConocoPhillips officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday but in an earlier emailed statement, the company said it was still investigating the scope of the leak and that there had been no reported impact on wildlife, fishing or shipping activities.
The company owns a 49% stake in the Penglai 19-3 oilfield, which produced 150,000 barrels a day. It may be fined up to 200,000 yuan (US$30,946) for the accident, according to Chinese law.
Even though the two operating companies continue to say that the size of the leak and its environmental impact have been kept under control, local residents and fishermen have expressed outrage over their procrastination in reporting the accident to the public.
Yang Fuqiang, a senior adviser on climate and energy at the Beijing offices of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group based in the United States, told the New York Times that even if the environmental damage turns out to be minimal, the long delay in publicizing the accident erodes public trust in the government and its state-run energy companies.
"Any oil spill has to be reported to the public," he said. "People who live in coastal areas have a right to know so they can make preparations."
Some Chinese media reports have also accused CNOOC of avoiding their responsibility over the incident. The state-run Global Times on Tuesday published a commentary by Han Xiaoping, a columnist for energy website China5e.com, blaming the state-run oil company for evasion and the government for playing a role in a cover-up.
"We do everything to protect state-owned enterprises, which eventually leads them to think they can always get support from the government when they get into trouble," he wrote.
ConocoPhillips China 康菲石油中國有限公司
State Oceanic Administration 國家海洋局
Penglai 19-3 蓬萊19-3油田
Bohai Gulf 渤海灣
Li Xiaoming 李曉明
Han Xiaoping 韓曉平