Oil spill impacts

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, July 6, 2011
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Judging from what we have heard from the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), the China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) may be correct in claiming that the scope and impacts of the spill at Penglai 19-3 oilfield in the Bohai Sea are incomparable with the notorious Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster, yet they appear much bigger than it claimed.

A spill of 2,000 square meters, which is the size the CNOOC previously said, is in stark contrast with media reports of one that is "3 kilometers long and 20 to 30 meters wide", or the SOA's official account of 840 sq km of seriously polluted sea water.

We would like to believe the SOA assurance that the spill is now under "effective control". However, its concurrent confession of "minor leakage" at drilling platforms B and C sets us wondering to what extent the control is effective.

Perhaps we should demonstrate more patience and allow more time for a thorough and reliable conclusion about the cause and effect of the accident. But the approach of the CNOOC, who owns and operates the structures with an American partner, to a matter of serious public concern is inappropriate. Perhaps from CNOOC's perspective, telling the public what happened, as well as what has been, is being, and will be done to stop the leaks might be too technical for a lay audience, and is thus of little help. But that is no excuse to brush aside the concerns that have been aired.

For one thing, as a listed company, the CNOOC has an obligation to share information. At the very least, shareholders should not be kept in the dark. The CNOOC as a State firm has a special duty and obligation to protect national and public interests, in addition to its normal corporate responsibilities.

The oil spill in the Bohai waters constitutes a clear and present environmental hazard with unfathomable consequences. As an internal sea, the already seriously contaminated Bohai Sea's self-cleaning capabilities are very weak.

If there has been any exaggeration of the impacts, it is primarily an outcome of the CNOOC's reluctance to share, if not withholding, information. There was a two-week time lag between media exposure of the spill and the CNOOC's confirmation. The obvious contradiction between its initial denial and media disclosures guaranteed that people would speculate.

The SOA said all three provinces and one municipality along the Bohai Bay were informed of the accident in a timely manner. But previous media reports quoted at least one local government as saying they had received no notice.

Besides clearing the current spill and public relations debris, the ambitious maritime oil driller must reflect on its safety guarantee mechanisms and take proper precautions to make sure something like this does not happen again.

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