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China’s Own Oil Disaster

July 17, 2012

BP’s Gulf spill is getting all the press, but China’s pipeline blast in a northern port famous for its beaches is almost as scary. Dan Levin reports on workers cleaning oil with their bare hands, the media clampdown, and more.

An explosion sends crude oil gushing into the sea. Authorities close beaches as frantic cleanup efforts commence, followed by government officials arriving to take stock of the damage and investigate the cause of the spill. Local tourism and fishing industries suffer. Environmentalists cry foul, accusing the government of failing to protect the nation’s natural resources in favor of quick profits. Reports surface that journalists are being kept away from the scene as those in power attempt to limit the political and economic fallout.

“Any criticism launched at the company would be considered an attack on the government, so the media is very quiet.”

If this sounds like the BP oil spill, think again. For the last week, this series of events has taken place here in China after a state-owned pipeline belonging to China National Petroleum Corp., Asia’s largest oil and gas producer by volume, exploded last Friday off the coast of Dalian, a northern port city famous for its beaches. The blasts sent 1,500 tons of crude oil into the Yellow Sea and sparked 100-foot-high flames that burned for 15 hours. While state media has reported that the leak has been stopped and Dalian’s vice mayor said he expects the cleanup effort to take only five days, oil has spread over 165 square miles and other government officials have stated they think the operation could last weeks, with environmental damage possibly continuing for years.

According to Greenpeace China spokesman Wang Xiaojun, the government has failed to warn tourists of the danger washing ashore at the height of beach season. Despite the spill, Greenpeace staff members have seen children playing in the contaminated waters off beaches that have not been closed. “It’s really scary,” said Wang.

Also clueless about protecting their skin from the crude oil are local fishermen, who are doing most of the cleanup using their bare hands, without wearing face masks.

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