China’s oceanic administration says it is preparing to sue the local unit of ConocoPhillips for damages to the environment resulting from offshore oil spills that began in June.
The State Oceanic Administration said Tuesday in a notice on its website that it was recruiting legal advisers to pursue compensation claims against the company, which operates the leaking oil wells in Bohai Bay.
ConocoPhillips said it expects to have mud affected by the oil cleaned up by the end of August. A company spokesman said the process was slowed by concerns for worker safety in the unclear waters affected by the spill.
The spills have added to concerns over damage to the marine environment in Bohai, a major fishery, from industrial, agricultural and other types of pollution.
ConocoPhillips China operates the wells in the Bohai’s Penglai 19-3 oilfield in partnership with state-run China National Offshore Oil Corp. The spills covered 840 square kilometers (324 square miles), according to oceanic administration reports, and have drawn criticism from environmentalists and local media over potential damage and apparent delays in notifying the public.
On Sunday, oil droplets were bubbling from the sea floor near the well where mud contaminated by oil was removed, the company said. It is trying to determine the source of the droplets and to capture them before they reach the ocean surface. It denied media reports of a new leak.
The company said the total amount of oil and drilling fluids leaked in the spills was estimated at about 240 cubic meters (1,500 barrels). Some of the oil found on the sea surface was analyzed and determined to be coming from a seep in the seabed rather than Penglai 19-3 wells, it said.
Legal action over such incidents is complicated by the fact that in China only those directly affected, and not environmental groups, can sue for compensation.
Suing in a U.S. court is another option, the financial newspaper China Business Journal said, but is also problematic because of the high costs involved.