More than 1,000 workers battled difficult conditions Wednesday in their ongoing effort to tackle an oil spill off the northeastern coast in Dalian in an attempt to stop it from further spreading into international waters, five days after pipelines exploded.
Pan Mingwei, a source close to the cleanup operation, told the Global Times that joint efforts, by rescuers from Dalian using oil-removing solvent and by local fishermen using buckets, were ongoing Wednesday to clean the polluted seawater amid heavy fog.
"The waves have become less choppy, but there are still possibilities that weather conditions may not be cooperative in the cleanup operation," he said.
The official account of the amount of leaked oil remained unclear. A China Central Television report estimate was at 1,500 tons. The cause of the incident is still being investigated.
Zhong Yu of Greenpeace China told the Global Times Wednesday that "The oil spill, which will be difficult to totally clean up, will definitely pose a grave threat to water quality, marine animals and sea birds."
Zhong, who is in Dalian to assess environmental damages, said, "It is time for the country to learn a lesson from the tragedy and have a deep rethink of its oil-oriented energy structure."
Greenpeace China said it was collecting first-hand information about real and potential damage brought by the spill on the local environment, maritime production and tourism.
"Who is to blame for the accident is still unclear days after the explosions. The troublemaker should stand out to take responsibility for the accident," she said. "No party has claimed responsibility for economic losses to affected businesses."
Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, warned that "possibilities of similar accidents might be on the rise as China's demand for oil surges to fuel its economy."
"It is impossible to totally prevent such accidents from happening. What we should do is try to contain the possibilities as much as possible," he said.
Industry analysts said the oil pipeline blasts Friday had affected refined oil supplies in eastern and southern parts of China but oil prices there will not climb as a result.
The West Pacific Petrochemical Company in Dalian, one of the key refined oil exporters in China, saw its processing capacity drop by 20 percent since the incident, to 19,000 tons a day.
Feng Zhen, an analyst with oilgas.com, said costal provinces, including Jiangsu and Zhejiang, are the major market for refined oil from Dalian, but the reduced supply from the north in the short term would not create a severe shortage of supply to the south as the markets there have seen an oversupply since the beginning of the year.
Chu Jiewang, an analyst with C1 Energy, said oil stock in the southern markets could last 10 days, providing the best opportunity for the southern markets to dispose of stock.
The incident happened when two crude pipelines exploded Friday evening in Xingang Port in northeast Dalian after a 300,000-ton oil ship had unloaded its oil.
The pipeline is owned by China National Petroleum Corp, Asia's biggest oil and gas producer by volume.
Blow to tourism
The slick stretched up to 430 square kilometers off the Dalian coast by Wednesday, reaching tourist attractions, the Golden Pebble Beach and the beach of Bangchui Island.
One-third of Golden Pebble Beach is covered by the oily pollution, and large amounts of oil were also found on the beach of Bangchui Island, the State Oceanic Administration said Wednesday.
A staff member surnamed Dai at Golden Pebble Beach told the Global Times that "busi-ness is seriously affected by the oil spill as the number of travelers dropped significantly since western parts of the beach were found polluted since Tuesday."
"Straw has been used to absorb spilled oil. The beach will be closed for two to three days starting (today) for cleanup work. One thousand soldiers will help clean the polluted areas," she said.
"We used to have up to 100,000 tourists, but now only dozens of people choose to come here," she said, adding that the economic losses per day will stand at hundreds of thousands of yuan.
A staff member at a Beijing-based tourist agency told ifeng.com that 80 percent of their clients have canceled their ticket bookings to Dalian.
"More than 1,000 tourists left for Dalian everyday in the same period of last year, but now no more than 100 would head for the city," the staffer said.
From June to August fishing in the waters off Dalian is not allowed. Cao Chenglin, a Dalian fisherman, told Xinhua his boat was too small to join the oil spill clean-up, but he worried if he would be able catch any fish when the season opened.
Sale of seafood from Dalian has also been affected. Many large seafood markets in Beijing have already stopped purchasing seafood from Dalian. Residents who previously preferred Dalian seafood have switched to purchasing seafood from ports in Tianjin and Shandong Province, the Beijing Morning Post reported.