Chinese officials have doubled their initial estimate of an oil spill caused by the explosion of a pipeline last Friday in the city of Dalian on the Yellow Sea. The slick covers 165 miles of water, a fraction of the 2,700 square mile visible Gulf of Mexico slick, and is estimated at 1,500 tons of fuel, or less than half of one percent of the recent BP Gulf spill. Nevertheless, several nearby beaches and resorts have been closed, and the Guardian reports that fishing in the waters around Dalian has been banned until the end of August. One firefighter was killed during cleanup efforts, and another made a very lucky escape from the oncoming sludge.
In an echo of the BP statements early on in the Gulf spill, a Chinese official said on July 19, “We may be able to clean up the sea within roughly five days by allocating all possible resources.” Other officials are less optimistic, and so far the true extent of the damage to water and wildlife is uncertain.
“The oil spill will pose a severe threat to marine animals, and water quality, and the sea birds,” Huang Yong, deputy bureau chief for the city’s Maritime Safety Administration, told Dragon TV.
So far, at least 460 tons of oil have been scooped up, Xinhua news agency reported. Hundreds of volunteers, many very poorly equipped, are cleaning oil along the shoreline. In addition to skimmer boats working at sea, the oil is being treated with over 23 tons of petroleum-eating bacteria. While eating the oil may seem like a great solution, such bioremediation efforts in the past have had mixed results, and may upset ecosystems in the long term.
While this may be China’s worst oil spill to date, it is far from the only incident. An explosion in 2005 released 100 tons of toxic benzene into a river in northeastern China, tainting the water supply for the city of Harbin. Last December 40,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from a China National Petroleum Corp. pipeline in northwestern Shaanxi province, some two-thirds of which flowed into local rivers. Time magazine quoted the China co-director of the NGO Pacific Environment: “It’s very tragic. It’s more evidence that the oil companies are not prepared for such an ecological crisis.” Sound familiar?
Photo: Dramatic rescue of man from recent China oil spill. photo: Greenpeace China