China says ConocoPhillips hasn't ended Bohai spill

September 2, 2011 - 9:20 AM

SHANGHAI (AP) — China's oceanic agency has ordered ConocoPhillips China to do more to prevent and clean up offshore spills in the Bohai Bay that have raised an outcry among fishermen and environmentalists.

The State Oceanic Administration said Friday that its investigation found the company had failed to fully comply with orders to completely clean up damage from the spills and to ensure they would not recur.

The agency ordered the oil company to suspend oil and gas production in the affected field, off China's eastern coast, until it carries out a series of steps to prevent further oil leaks and remove any spills. It also wants a full environmental impact assessment before production resumes.

ConocoPhillips said it was drawing up a compliance plan along with its partner in the Bohai, China National Offshore Oil Corp.

"Activities that are related to depressurizing the field will continue in a safe and environmentally responsible way," it said in the statement released Friday.

The spills, which occurred June 4 and June 17, released about 700 barrels of oil into Bohai Bay and 2,500 barrels of mineral oil-based drilling mud onto the seabed, it said.

ConocoPhillips reported earlier this week that it had completely cleaned up the spills, sealed the fault causing the leaks and placed a containment device to prevent further seeps.

Small amounts of oil and mineral oil-based drilling mud, used as a lubricant, that was still emerging were from earlier seeps that have been shifting from under layers of sand on the seabed, it said.

But the State Oceanic Administration said that monitoring by satellite, underwater robots and other means showed that the oil was not fully cleaned up and was still seeping. It repeated criticism over ConocoPhillips' containment measures, deeming them not a permanent solution.

"ConocoPhillips did not operate in a prudent and responsible way," it said.

ConocoPhillips China holds a 49 percent stake in the venture in the Penglai 19-3 oil field, one of China's largest, with CNOOC holding 51 percent. Both companies have publicly apologized for the spills.

The government says the spills spread up to 5,500 square kilometers (2,124 miles) and may have killed off scallops. ConocoPhillips says damage to the marine environment was minimized and that most oil particles found onshore were not related to the spills but were from fuel in the water.

The comments Friday by the oceanic administration suggest a clash of opinions over how to handle the seeps, said to have been caused by pressure that had built up due to injections used to help force oil from the wells.

The controversy reflects growing pressures on the Bohai, a major fisheries base, from rapid industrialization, especially in the energy sector. On the gulf's northeastern end lies Dalian, where residents have marched to protest chemical factories, and fretted over oil spills and fires at refineries.

The notice ordered ConocoPhillips to accept CNOOC'S "strict supervision" in preventing any further spills.

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AP researcher Fu Ting contributed.