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Public fury feverish over Bohai oil leakage

By Liu Linlin (Global Times)

08:33, September 05, 2011

A war of words between ConocoPhillips China (COPC) and China Central Television (CCTV) over the weekend added more drama to the oil spill incident in the Bohai Bay, outraging the public that is demanding COPC actively take responsibility for the crisis.

Beijing--COPC, the operator of the Penglai 19-3 oilfield, issued a statement Saturday evening accusing CCTV of making up an interview with an alleged employee of the oil producer in a report aired Friday.

In the report, a CCTV crew revisited the leakage site near platforms B and C with inspectors from the State Oceanic Administration (SOA).

The crew said it saw at least 20 ships cleaning oil at the site, contradicting a previous claim from COPC that the company had finished clearing the area before the August 31 deadline set by the SOA.

Through a wireless radio channel, a man claiming to be a COPC employee working in the area told CCTV that the cleaning work had been delayed due to bad weather.

When asked why the company claimed to have finished the cleaning process before the deadline, the employee replied, "We just lied."

In Saturday's statement, COPC said the CCTV report was untrue, and no one from the company had ever made the comments.

"Anyone onboard a ship in the area could use the wireless channel to talk to or interrupt the conversation at the time of interview," the company said, demanding that CCTV "correct this mistake."

The war of words immediately drew fire from the public, which is already unhappy with what it sees as COPC's lackluster efforts to deal with the crisis.

Wang Yukun, chief of the Entrepreneurs Study Center at Peking University, wrote on his Sina Weibo page Sunday that the oil spill accident is a vivid lesson in management, in which COPC acted in a "tough and rascally manner."

"They can deny whatever their employees said without taking any responsibility, and they have repeatedly done that. I don't know what the company is trying to do," Wang commented.

Lin Fangzhong, a senior official with the North Sea branch of the SOA, also criticized the attitude of the COPC and its slow treatment of the oil spills.

As long as the spills continue, the SOA will keep on monitoring conditions at the site, Lin told CCTV.

The SOA confirmed Friday that COPC had failed to meet the deadline of "sealing all potential sources for oil spills and blocking leaks once and for all," and ordered the company to cease all production in the Penglai 19-3 field.

Ma Jun, the director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said that COPC is to blame for the public anger, as it failed to disclose information about the crisis from the outset.

"The company tried to cover the accident up until media exposed it and later, when the accident was confirmed, it tried to PR the crisis with misleading information and statements," Ma told the Global Times.

"It is time for them to shoulder the responsibility and tell the public the true situation of the crisis," Ma added.

The spills were first spotted in early June. COPC claimed that they quickly alerted authorities about the leakage, but no information was disclosed to the public until early July.

The Penglai 19-3 oilfield, the country's largest offshore oilfield, is jointly owned by COPC and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), with the latter holding a 51 percent stake.

The spills have spread to beaches in Shandong, Hebei and Liaoning provinces, and have been blamed for losses in tourism and aquatic farming.

Xia Jun, a Beijing-based lawyer specializing in the environment and resources, said that a lack of legal action against COPC so far has given the oil company an opportunity to fool the public.

"The SOA has the right to sue the company. If the government does not start the legal process quickly enough, more damage will be done due to litigation preservation," Xia said.

"The SOA's order to stop production is timely but far from sufficient. The government should change its approach from relying on administrative orders to resolving the issue through a legal process," Xia said.

CNOOC said Saturday it will enhance supervision and assistance to the COPC in handling the oil spills to make sure that COPC fully implements the maritime authority's order.

CNOOC added that the suspension of production at the oilfield will further reduce the company's net production by about 40,000 barrels per day.

Mo Ting contributed to this story


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