BEIJING (AP) — American energy giant ConocoPhillips defended its response to a pair of oil leaks off China's northeast coast and said Wednesday it would change procedures there if necessary to prevent future spills.
The government said Tuesday it was investigating the company's role in the June leaks and possible damage to the environment. The State Oceanic Administration said the oil covered 840 square kilometers (324 square miles) in the Penglai area of Bohai Bay, where ConocoPhillips operates seven production platforms.
ConocoPhillips reacted quickly to both leaks and informed authorities the day they were found, said managers of the company and its Chinese partner in the field, state-owned CNOOC Ltd., at a news conference. They said both leaks have stopped and cleanup work is nearly finished.
The environmental group Greenpeace expressed disappointment that the government and company failed to go public with information about the spills for at least two weeks.
Chinese news reports have cited complaints of dead fish, though they said it was unclear whether the deaths were due to oil. They contend Chinese authorities and the company failed to provide enough information.
The first leak was June 4 at Penglai 19-3 oil field in Bohai Bay, where an oil sheen on the surface was traced to a natural fault, said Mark Ireland, subsurface manager of ConocoPhillips China, the Houston-based company's local unit. He said such seepage is very rare and has not been seen before in the Bohai Bay.
The cause is under investigation, Ireland said.
The leak occurred during production work, which included injecting water into the oil reservoir, a standard industry practice to improve output, Ireland said. He said drilling and water injection will be suspended until the investigation is completed.
"We will review all our operating practices associated with the field. We will make any changes necessary in these operating practices to avoid such an event in the future," he said.
CNOOC's executive vice president said the delay in announcing details was due partly to the difficulty of tracing the leak.
"It took a lot of time to be certain where this oil came from," said the executive, Chen Bi. "ConocoPhillips used its best efforts to determine where the oil was coming from."
The second leak June 17 came from an existing well and was sealed within 48 hours, said Georg Storaker, president of ConocoPhillips China.
"Today there is no leak but there is cleanup work going on," Storaker said. He said there were no injuries and no reports of oil reaching the shore.
The State Oceanic Administration said 3,000 meters (3,300 yards) of sea booms and other devices were deployed to help clean up the spill. It said the limited amount of oil on the surface as of Monday suggested no significant leaks.
The Penglai 19-3 oil field, China's largest offshore field, was jointly developed by ConocoPhillips China and CNOOC Ltd. The U.S. partner owns 49 percent of the field and is its operator while the Chinese partner has 51 percent.
The spill has raised concern over potential long-term impact to the area's very active fisheries industry.
Greenpeace urged the government and oil companies to provide more information about possible environmental damage.
"So far the information from the administration isn't comprehensive enough for us to judge how much impact it actually can bring," said Li Yan, climate and energy campaign manager for Greenpeace in Beijing.
In China's worst reported oil spill, a pipeline explosion in the northeastern port of Dalian last year caused oil to pour into the sea, spreading over at least 165 square miles (430 square kilometers).