China Admits Massive Oil Spill in Bohai Bay

      July 06, 2011 12:24

      An oil spill equivalent to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has occurred in China's largest offshore oil field in Bohai Bay. The Chinese government made the announcement at a press conference a full month after the incident and claimed it has already dealt with it by cleaning up the spill and halting operation of the oil field.

      But since it gave no figures about the exact amount of oil that was spilled, there are suspicions that Beijing is trying to cover up the magnitude of the disaster.

      China's State Oceanic Administration said oil leaked from platforms B and C in the Penglai 19-3 offshore oilfield in Bohai Bay on June 4 and 17. Immediately after the accidents, the Chinese authorities demanded that the operator, U.S. energy giant ConocoPhillips, stop operation, and embarked on cleaning up the spill.

      An oil plume was spotted in 158 sq.km around platform B and 138 sq.km around the platform C, with altogether 840 sq.km of the ocean was affected, according to the SOA. However, it did not specify the amount of oil spilled, saying additional investigation is needed. It added that the coast in Hebei and Shandong was not polluted as the site of accident was right in the center of the bay.

      Experts here said the spilled oil will not immediately flow to the west coast of Korea but could affect the country's coastal regions several months on. Cho Yang-ki, a professor of School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Seoul National University, said, "Because tidal currents stay inside Bohai Bay circling anticlockwise, there is low possibility of oil leaking outside of the Bay. If it happened during the winter, when northwesterly winds blow into Korea, it could be dangerous, but now the winds are southeasterly."

      However, some contaminated sea water from Bohai Bay and the Shandong Peninsula could travel southward and combine with freshwater from the Yangtze River, and this could change the situation. "From that point, tidal currents flow towards the southern coast of Korea or Jeju Island, so it could cause havoc on parts of the Korean shore," said Lee Jae-hak at the Korea Ocean Research and Development Institute. SNU's Cho also said if contaminated water from Bohai Bay meets freshwater from the Yangtze, the southern coast could be affected in three to five months.

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