Hebei and Liaoning first to get share of 1b yuan compensation fund
Environmental authorities have mapped out a three-year plan for the restoration of Bohai Bay, which was severely damaged by oil spills last year, China's ocean watchdog said Thursday.
According to a statement by the State Oceanic Administration, the Ministry of Agriculture aims to rebuild the area's fishery industry by 2015, including putting about 3.4 billion aquatic animals into the bay.
The agency also announced that money from a 1 billion yuan ($157 million) compensation fund has already been allocated to Hebei and Liaoning provinces to be used to help fishermen affected by the leaks from the Penglai 19-3 oilfield.
ConocoPhillips China, the operator of the oilfield, has also agreed with the government to set up another 1.1 billion yuan fund based on estimated damages.
The company, based in the United States, and its Chinese partner, China National Offshore Oil Corporation, will also jointly pay another 600 million yuan.
The money will go toward Bohai Bay's marine environment recovery, construction and protection, the statement said.
ConocoPhillips China confirmed the agreement and said the company places the highest priority on its commitment to the country, and it looks forward to continuing operations in China.
In June 2011, Penglai 19-3 oilfield experienced two unrelated leaks, with initial estimates indicating that about 723 barrels (115 cubic meters) of oil were released into the sea and 2,620 barrels (416.45 cubic meters) of mineral oil mud were released onto the seabed, according to the US company.
A State Oceanic Administration investigation report in November said the leaks polluted an area of about 6,200 square kilometers (nearly nine times the size of Singapore), including 870 square kilometers that were severely polluted.
The contamination killed large amounts of aquatic animals and led to a growing abnormality in the water, the report said.
Although progress is being made in dealing with the impact of the leaks, legal experts said restoration and compensation efforts should be more transparent.
Zhou Ke, a professor on environment law at Renmin University of China, said the incident had damaged the interests of not only the government, but also the people.
"More public voices should be heard before the compensation agreement is completed," he said.
In August, the State Oceanic Administration said that a lawsuit would be filed against the companies responsible for the leaks. However, Zhou said that the agreement between authorities and ConocoPhillips China means legal action appears unlikely.
Filing a lawsuit could make the investigation and damage assessment process more transparent, he added.
Wang Yamin, an associate professor at Shandong University's marine college, also suggested that an independent, third-party assessment on the environmental impact should be carried out.