Even as the British oil giant BP is still struggling to cap the well spewing out oil into the Gulf of Mexico, reports speak of another looming catastrophe from China.
On Friday last two pipelines exploded in Dalian, Liaoning province, spilling oil into the Bohai Gulf. This accident - occurring just a day after BP finally capped their Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico - should be a grave reminder of the continued and unavoidable dangers of our continued reliance on an oil economy, warned Greenpeace, China.
The pipelines were transferring oil from a Liberian tanker ship to storage facilities in Dalian's Xingang Port. One pipe exploded, triggering a series of explosions in another pipeline and breaking open a storage tank.
Images of 100-foot-high flames shooting up near part of China's strategic oil reserves drew the immediate attention of President Hu Jintao and other top leaders. Now the challenge is cleaning up the greasy brown plume floating off the shores of Dalian, once named China's most livable city. The government says the slick has spread across a 70-square-mile stretch of ocean.
Officials told Xinhua they did not yet know how much oil had leaked, but China Central Television reported that no more pollution, including oil and firefighting chemicals, had entered the sea Tuesday. It was not clear how far the spill was from China's closest neighbor in the region, North Korea.
Dalian's vice mayor, Dai Yulin, told Xinhua that 40 specialized oil-control boats would be on the scene by Tuesday evening, along with hundreds of fishing boats. Oil-eating bacteria were also being used in the cleanup.
"Our priority is to collect the spilled oil within five days to reduce the possibility of contaminating international waters," he said.
But an official with the State Oceanic Administration has warned the spill will be difficult to clean up even in twice that amount of time.
Meantime Dalian has shut beaches as workers continue to clean the offshore oil spill that has shut the country's biggest crude terminal, China Daily said.
Several bathing beaches have been closed and the resort island of Bangchui island east of Dalian is barred to tourists, the state-run newspaper reported today, without saying where it got the information. About 300 metric tons of oil has been recovered as of 2 p.m. yesterday, China National Petroleum Corp., the parent of Hong Kong-listed PetroChina Co., said in a statement on its website today.
"From local media reports, it appears that about half the oil from the spill has been collected and the impact will be fairly limited," Wang Aochao, head of China Energy Research at UOB-Kay Hian Ltd. in Shanghai., said by telephone. "The effect on PetroChina and its parent should also be limited. It doesn't appear to be a major incident."
Greenpeace is closely monitoring the development of the spill and the clean-up efforts, and is sending a field team there to assess the environmental impact of the disaster. The Dalian port is China's second largest for crude oil imports, and last week's spill appears to be the country's largest in recent memory.
"In terms of what is known to the public, this is definitely the biggest," said Yang Ailun, head climate campaigner at Greenpeace China.
"Government and business leaders have been telling the media that there's no environmental impact. From Greenpeace's perspective, that's very irresponsible," she added. "It's too early to tell. Oil is still floating around."
The cause of the blast was still not clear Tuesday. The pipeline is owned by China National Petroleum Corp., Asia's biggest oil and gas producer by volume.
Meantime China has overtaken the United States to become the world's top energy consumer for the first time, a new report says.
Provisional figures from the International Energy Agency indicate that China's energy demand has doubled in a decade.
The IEA said China had taken first place because it was hit less hard than the US by the global financial crisis.
China challenged the report's findings, saying its figures were unreliable.
The US has been the biggest consumer of energy for more than 100 years. But China's rapid economic growth in the past two decades has pushed it into top spot, according to Tuesday's report.
The surge in demand for energy in China was further fuelled by its rising population.
In such a backdrop, the oil spill holds serious consequences for the coastal ecosystem, as well as the fishing and tourism industries and local communities, said Greenpeace. Although it is still too early to fully evaluate the environmental consequences of this accident, one thing is certain:there is no such thing as a complete clean-up, said Greenpeace. The damage done by every oil spill is irreversible and long-lasting.
The clean up process has already begun, with booms, skimmers, and dispersants, which themselves are hazardous chemicals whose harmful effects have not yet been fully studied.
"From the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of Dalian to the numerous coal mine accidents, it is tragically obvious that economic development built upon fossil fuels is unsustainable and comes at a high price," says Yang Ailun. "To ultimately avoid the devastating consequences of such accidents on our environment and safety, we must reform our energy system by improving energy efficiency and developing renewable energy sources, while moving away from dirty fossil fuels such as oil and coal," she stressed.