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Chinese oil spill half the size of London went unreported for a month

Polluted water. Murky information. Public anger. Government promises of transparency and oversight to prevent a recurrence. And then, a short time later, it all happens again.

Watching the 840 square km oil slick now polluting China’s Bohai Sea and listening to the excuses of the companies and officials involved, it is hard to avoid a sense of deja-vu.

It has taken a month for news to emerge about the leak from a well in the Penglai 19-3 field operated by the US energy company ConocoPhillips in partnership with the China National Offshore Oil Corporation and .

The companies detected the problem on 4 June, but it only came to light on 21 June thanks to a microblog leak rather than an official release. After initially downplaying the accident, the authorities finally revealed this week that it covers an area half the size of Greater London.

The State Oceanic Administration (SOA) said on Tuesday that the seabed leak is the first of its kind in China and the water quality in the affected area has fallen to the lowest of its four categories.

Information remains sketchy. Neither company has responded to The Guardian’s request for details. Despite vague reassurances from CNOOC on Wednesday that problem is “basically under control”, there has been no estimate of the amount of oil discharged or the potential impact on marine life and coastlines.

The government also revealed that the maximum penalty for such incidents is 200,000 yuan (£19,000). Compensation is likely to be considerably higher.


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