Oil spill in China worsens

Feature story - 21 July, 2010
We continue to keep a close watch on the development of the oil spill in Dalian, China, which has already cost the life of a firemen and continues to grow, posing an increasingly severe threat to the area’s coastal ecosystem.

Zhang Liang, a 25-year-old who was with the Dalian Fire Department, died as he was trying to fix an underwater pump, which was heavily clogged by petroleum and debris. Greenpeace China yesterday sent a letter to the fire department expressing sympathy and respect for the fireman and those on the front lines of the clean-up effort in Dalian, Liaoning province, China.

“Our planet’s over-reliance on petroleum caused this tragedy,” Greenpeace Climate Campaign Manager Ailun Yang said. “It is a sad day for those involved in the clean-up effort, and for the planet as whole. Ultimately it is we human beings who pay the price for our oil addiction.”

A Greenpeace team was on the scene when a sudden strong wave swept Zhang Liang away. While his fellow workers attempted to rescue him, the heavy oil choking the water – some twenty centimeters thick at an eyeballed estimate – made any rescue effort nearly impossible. The second firefighter was eventually pulled from the ocean alive, but Zhang was not found until hours too late.

Yesterday we sent a second series of photographs to international media that document the extent of the oil spill first-hand. A first series of images, including scenes from the attempted rescue operation, already provided arresting evidence of what is happening in Dalian – just days after BP finally capped its Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico.

As in the US, it took several days for the true extent of the spill to become apparent – amid official underestimations of the size of the spill, predictions of a rapid cleanup, and promises of minimum environmental damage. As the spill continued to spread unchecked and graphic evidence such as our images surfaced, those assurances vaporized into, at best, the oily rainbows of wishful thinking or, at worst, the heavy sludge of deceit.

It is still too early to fully evaluate the environmental consequences of the accident. On Wednesday, beaches on the Yellow Sea had to be closed amid fears that the sticky black crude could become a severe threat to the coastal ecosystem, as well as the fishing and tourism industries and local communities.

One thing is certain, however: there is no such thing as a complete clean-up. The damage done by every oil spill is irreversible and long-lasting. Greenpeace calls for a revolution of our energy system, through improving energy efficiency as well as developing renewable energy resources. At the same time, we must move away from dirty fossil fuels such as oil and coal for a clean, sustainable energy future.

The spill in Dalian happened after two pipelines exploded on July 16, spilling oil into the Bohai Gulf. 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.

An estimated 11,000 barrels (1,500 tons) of crude leaked into the ocean, creating an oil slick that has expanded over some 100 square kilometers. A fire raged for 15 hours before it was mostly extinguished. The clean up process is taking place with booms, skimmers, and dispersants, which themselves are hazardous chemicals whose harmful effects have not yet been fully studied.

How many times will local communities have to relive this nightmare? It's time for an Energy [R]evolution and an end to the era of dirty, deadly fuels.


(All images ©Greenpeace)