ConocoPhillips May Have to Pay Up in China Spill

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China’s State Oceanic Administration (SOA) said this week that a large oil spill off the coast of Shandong province, near Beijing, is worse than previously stated, and that the government may seek compensation from ConocoPhillips, the U.S. oil company with a 49% stake in the oilfield.

On Tuesday the agency said that two separate spills on June 4 and 17 contaminated an 840-square-kilometer area of the Bohai Sea — more than four times the original 200 square-km that the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), the majority stakeholder in the field, first said were affected. The leak may have been caused by pressure build-up after water was injected in the drilling well.

The environmental impact of the spill, now seemingly contained, is being evaluated. One green group has said oil is still visible on the water’s surface, and a division of the SOA has said the water they have measured in the area has gotten the worst marks on its pollution index.

More unsettling has been the way the oil firms and the SOA withheld information about the incident for nearly a month before going public with a first low estimate last week. The state-backed press came out with uncharacteristically critical coverage of the affair today after the new estimates surfaced, likely in an effort to beef up China’s green street cred. Still, it’s something. As a Global Times editorial read: “We cannot help but wonder: Is the SOA a serious watchdog that exists to prevent bigger incidents from happening, or a loving parent who is over-protective of his own child?”