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