Oil leak risk rises along coast

Updated: 2012-01-12 07:48

By Xin Dingding (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Maritime safety officials warn that China's coastline is increasingly at risk of oil spills and pollution from the booming offshore drilling and more frequent oil shipping.

As oil resources on land gradually decrease, the energy-thirsty nation is looking increasingly to the ocean for oil, and the Bohai Sea and South China Sea are now packed with drilling platforms, Zhai Jiugang, head of the duty office of China Maritime Search & Rescue Center, said at a news conference in Beijing on Tuesday.

For example, 15,900-square-kilometer Bohai Bay is dotted with more than 100 offshore platforms, he said.

"Some platforms were built in 1980s. The aging equipment will increase the risk of oil leaking," he said.

Meanwhile, with China importing more than 200 million tons of oil annually in recent years, the coastal waters are busy with large tankers. At least 400 tankers of various sizes and 40,000 cargo ships sail in coastal waters and inland river ports each day, he added.

Major oil spills have been increasing in recent years.

Last year, an oil spill that started on June 4 in the Penglai 19-3 oilfield polluted 6,200 square kilometers of Bohai Bay - an area about nine times the size of Singapore - the State Oceanic Administration said on Nov 11.

On July 16, 2010, an oil pipeline caught fire and exploded at the Dalian Petrochina International Warehousing and Transportation Co, causing a large oil spill and direct economic losses estimated at 223 million yuan ($35.3 million). After that, subsidiaries of Petrochina were found responsible for three more fires from October 2010 to August.

Chen Aiping, deputy director of the China Maritime Safety Administration under the Ministry of Transport, said that measures should be taken to increase coastal areas' ability to handle oil spills so that pollution can be kept to a minimum.

On Jan 1, a policy was adopted requiring all liquid- bulk carrying ships as well as other vessels with a gross tonnage of more than 10,000 tons to sign a contract with oil spill cleaning companies at ports, Chen said. The measure is expected to provide the quickest response to contain oil leaks, insiders said.

Xia Zhenming, deputy general manager of Nanjing Ocean Shipping Co, said that in the past, when a ship accidentally leaked oil, the shipowner usually reported it to the maritime safety administration first. The administration would notify an oil cleaning company to handle the leak, and the shipping company would spend some time bargaining with the cleaning company over the cost of the cleanup.

"Oil spreads fast, and time is wasted in the bargaining. Once oil spreads out, it is difficult to retrieve," said Xia.

With the new agreement, the oil cleaning company will be immediately notified by the shipowner to begin the job right away, he said, adding it is both a good thing for the shipowner and the ocean environment.

The administration also asked that each major port set up a team specialized in cleaning leaked oil. Two State-level oil spill emergency facility storages have been set up in Yantai and Qinhuangdao, in northern China, to cope with oil spills.

"Major ports can handle oil leaks of up to 1,000 tons," said Chen.

The administration earlier said it could handle oil spills of up to 500 tons by 2010.