Oil spill is far larger than China has ad­mit­ted, U.S. ex­pert says

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Cara Anna

BEI­JING — China’s worst known oil spill is dozens of times larger than the govern­ment has re­ported — big­ger than the fa­mous Exxon Valdez spill two decades ago — and some of the oil was dumped de­lib­er­ately to avoid fur­ther dis­as­ter, an Amer­i­can ex­pert said Fri­day.

China’s govern­ment has said 1,500 tons (461,790 gal­lons) of oil spilled af­ter a pipe­line ex­ploded two weeks ago near the northeastern city of Dalian, send­ing 100-foot-high flames rag­ing for hours near one of the coun­try’s key strate­gic oil re­serves. Such pub­lic es­ti­mates stopped within a few days of the spill.

But Rick Steiner, a for­mer Uni­ver­sity of Alaska ma­rine con­ser­va­tion spe­cial­ist, es­ti­mated that 60,000 tons (18.47 mil­lion gal­lons) to 90,000 tons (27.70 mil­lion gal­lons) ac­tu­ally spilled into the Yel­low Sea.

“It’s enor­mous. That’s at least as large as the of­fi­cial es­ti­mate of the Exxon Valdez dis­as­ter” in Alaska in 1989, he told The As­so­ci­ated Press. The size of the off­shore area af­fected by the spill prob­a­bly is more than 400 square miles, he added.

The es­ti­mates, though rough, could com­pli­cate China’s ef­forts to move on from its lat­est en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter: At least this man clean­ing up oil at the Nan­tuo Fish­ing Har­bor this week had a bucket. Some Dalian res­i­dents have used chop­sticks. Dalian’s mayor al­ready has de­clared a “de­ci­sive vic­tory” in the oil spill cleanup, state me­dia re­ported this week.

The spill has caused at least one death, when a cleanup worker drowned in the sticky crude, and thou­sands of Dalian res­i­dents have used their bare hands and even chop­sticks to pick the goo from the sea.

Steiner, who worked on the Exxon Valdez spill, an­nounced the China es­ti­mates af­ter tour­ing the spill area as a con­sul­tant for the en­vi­ron­men­tal group Green­peace China.

“It’s ha­bit­ual for gov­ern­ments to un­der­state oil spills,” Steiner said at a news con­fer­ence. “But the sever­ity of the dis­crep­ancy is un­usual here.”

An of­fi­cial with Dalian’s pro­pa­ganda depart­ment told The As­so­ci­ated Press he was not aware of Steiner’s es­ti­mates and had no com­ment.

“I think we should fol­low the fig­ures re­leased by the city govern­ment,” said the man, who gave his sur­name as Li.

The govern­ment has said the pipe­line ex­ploded July 16 af­ter work­ers con­tin­ued to in­ject an agent to strip sul­fur from oil af­ter a tanker had fin­ished un­load­ing its cargo.

Steiner said fire­fight­ers at the scene later told Green­peace China that work­ers had let oil es­cape from other tanks in the area to re­duce the risk that an­other nearby tank con­tain­ing the chem­i­cal dimethyl­ben­zene would ex­plode as well.

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