Bohai Bay oil spill lawsuits filed in US

Updated: 2012-07-03 12:42

By Wang Qian (

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United States attorneys acting on behalf of about 30 fishermen in Shandong province filed a lawsuit against ConocoPhillips in the Southern District Court of Texas on Tuesday (Beijing time).

The move is the latest by people affected by oil spills in Bohai Bay in June last year seeking to win compensation from the US company responsible for the disaster.

Three firms — Bilek Law Firm LLP in Houston, Smith Stag LLC in New Orleans, and Jones, Swanson, Huddell & Garrison LLC also in New Orleans — have been preparing the class action since last year, Jia Fangyi, a lawyer at Great Wall Law Firm, said on Monday in Beijing.

All of the firms have previously won environmental cases involving oil and gas production, including claims related to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Attorney Stuart Smith from Smith Stag LLC of New Orleans confirmed the filing of the lawsuit to China Daily early on Tuesday morning.

Donna Xue, a spokeswoman for ConocoPhillips China, said her office did not have any knowledge of the proposed lawsuit and declined to comment further before she could contact the company’s headquarters in the US.

Jia said the estimated direct economic losses caused by the oil leak for the 500 Shandong fishermen were about 870 million yuan ($136 million). He added more fishermen near Bohai Bay are contacting him for legal help, which may push the number represented by the three US law firms to 2,000.

Jia said he has filed lawsuits against companies he says are responsible for the oil leak in Bohai Bay to courts in Shandong, Hainan province, and Tianjin. All were rejected.

US courts carry the principal of long-arm jurisdiction, which refers to the ability of local courts to exercise jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants. It means that in this case the US court could decide to hear the case, even though it didn’t occur in the US, Jia explained.

"It is a hard and long fight. We will fight to the end,” Jia said.

In April, ConocoPhillips China, the operator of the Penglai 19-3 oilfield where the leaks occurred, agreed with the government to the setting up of a 1.1 billion yuan fund based on estimated damages, in addition to an earlier 1 billion yuan compensation fund for the affected fishermen in Hebei and Liaoning province.

China National Offshore Oil Corp, its Chinese partner, will also pay another 600 million yuan.

No money was allocated to the other affected areas such as Shandong and Tianjin.

In June 2011, Penglai 19-3 experienced two unrelated leaks, with initial estimates indicating that about 115 cubic meters of oil were released into the sea and 416 cu m of mineral oil mud were released on to the seabed, according to ConocoPhillips China.

A State Oceanic Administration report in November said the leaks polluted an area of about 6,200 square kilometers (nearly nine times the size of Singapore), including 870 square kilometers that were severely polluted.