Global Times | July 14, 2011
By Li Qian in Dalian
While tens of thousands of holidayers seek relief from the heat at the Golden Pebble Beach near Dalian, few seem to be aware that a year ago this seaside playground was covered by a thick film of crude oil.
Although a mammoth effort was undertaken to make it look like the spill never happened, there has yet to be a public accounting of the aftereffects of the environmental disaster.
On July 16 last year, pipes connected to a foreign oil tanker burst as its cargo was being offloaded, causing China’s worst oil spill. Docked at the Port of Dalian, Liaoning Province, the ship was delivering its load of crude to storage tanks owned by the China National Petroleum Corp(CNPC).
Local authorities said on July 29 last year that they had recovered 11,000 tons of crude, about 92 percent of the total that was spilled. Greenpeace and other independent environmental experts estimate more than 60,000 tons of oil may have leaked into the sea. Even the conservative official figure makes it China’s worst oil spill.
By comparison the infamous tanker Exxon Valdez spilled 35,000 tons of crude along the Alaskan coast in 1989.
*** A quick-fix solution ***
Dalian’s beaches and shoreline appear to have recovered but many believe the government has taken an out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach to the cleanup. Meanwhile hundreds of fisher families and aquafarmers have not yet learned if there will be long term effects on their livelihoods or what compensation they might receive.
A day after the spill began, the floating oil slick began washing up on Golden Pebble Beach, which is about 13 kilometers from the oil tanker’s berth. Although there are no official figures indicating how much crude washed up on the beach, media reports showed a beach-walker’s foot submerged in the gooey slick.
Government workers, soldiers, sailors and more than 3,000 local fishers were recruited for the massive cleanup operation.
The beach was partially reopened to tourists by August 2 last year. This August local officials are expecting 60,000 people a day to visit the beach.
After the initial, emergency cleanup the local government spent another 100 million yuan ($ 15 million) ridding the coastline of any telltale sign of the slick. An existing land reclamation project also provided a timely way of eliminating leftover crude as it continued to expand over the last year.
The quick-fix solution entailed dumping thousands of tons of sand on top of the contaminated beach.
For now the tactic appears to have worked. Officials say Golden Pebble Beach is now better than before the oil spill. “We transported 57,000 cubic meters of sand from other suburban beaches to reinforce the Golden Pebble Beach,” Man Feng, a tourism official with the beach’s management board, told the Global Times.
A number of tourists interviewed by the Global Times said they’ve seen clusters of floating red globs on the surface when they take a dip. A garbage collector on the beach said when a south wind blows she sees oil washed up on the beach.
*** Rated a 5A resort ***
The cover-up work on this city’s centerpiece beach was finished just before the start of the International Beach Festival in May this year and many tourists seem happy with the refreshed beach.
The city’s efforts have earned the Golden Pebble Beach a “5A Tourist Resort,” the highest national rating. “We were scored above 900 out of 1,000 by the National Tourism Administration. There are eight factors including transportation and environment in a tourist resort,” said Man.
Hiking along the northeast Dalian coastline it’s difficult to spot any trace of the oil spill.
Other non-tourist parts of the coastline also got the dump-and-hide treatment. A peninsula about six kilometers from where the tanker spilled part of its load was one of the hardest-hit areas last year. Local fishers said their local beach was covered with 80 centimeters of crude, “enough to drown a small child,” one of the villagers said with disgust.
After the initial cleanup, government workers piled two meters of sand, rocks and boulders on the oil-stained beach.
*** Concern over long-term effects ***
Many villagers wonder what will happen to the covered up crude in the future…
Concerns also remain about the recovery and cleanup of the floating oil slick. Cleanup crews skimmed thousands of barrels of crude off the water surface but chemical dispersants were also widely used.
Many local fishers said the dispersants caused the oil to sink, and while it’s out of sight it remains a potential threat. They were also concerned when chemicals washed on up shore.
Zhong Yu, an environmental expert with Greenpeace China, said the dispersant may cause further pollution. “The dissolved substances could be ingested by marine life and enter the food chain. When that happens, the impact of the oil spill is much greater.”
Zhong said the impact on the environment depends on the type of dispersant, but authorities have not revealed which chemicals were used.
“No one can completely eliminate the impact of an oil spill on the environment, and its influence usually lasts for many years. The government needs to continue to monitor the seawater, sediment and marine life to learn what damage has occurred,” Zhong told the Global Times.
*** Compensation still pending ***
The Dalian government has yet to announce promised compensation to the fishers and aquatic farmers who suffered losses last year. A man surnamed Ye, from Miaoshang village near Golden Pebble Beach, said 30 percent of his clams were killed by the oil slick and perhaps by the dispersants, which caused a loss of more than 300,000 yuan.
Villagers are concerned about the possible long-term impact the oil spill and the dispersants will have. Many local villagers interviewed by the Global Times expressed concern about the water quality.
“They grow smaller and slower than before,” said Peng Jian, a local fisher, referring to the seaweed and mollusks he farms.
Another villager surnamed Shao in Dadi village raises scallops and mussels, but he has had to halve his harvest because of collapsing prices. Many people in Dalian stopped eating seafood after the spill and the market has only begun to recover this year.
“If I harvest that amount again I’ll lose everything,” said Shao….
Many piles of equipment used in sea farming sit idle on the shore, as dozens of farmers in Dadi village said they have also cut production for the same reason Shao has.
While the farmers say the poor market is why they have reduced output, they also believe the seawater has “gone bad” even though it looks clean and oil-free.
*** Markets and harvests down ***
The harvest and market of sea cucumber, an important Chinese delicacy that used to flourish in the Dayao Bay, have also been cut in half. “This year no one wants sea cucumbers. The price is only about 140 yuan per kilo, half of what it was last year,” said Peng.
Villagers said the Dalian government has pledged to provide compensation after thousands of them petitioned the district and city governments last year. Their representatives even traveled to Beijing to make their case for compensations.
An official with the Dalian government press office who refused to give his name said they were waiting for a report from the State Council before working out a compensation plan.
The CNPC has not shown any willingness to compensate the villagers, some of whom were sickened during the initial cleanup. Some locals earned hundreds of thousands of yuan during the cleanup and some lost more than their health.
Liang Shuangying’s husband died during the recovery operation and she is now working as a caddie at a local golf resort.
“…[W]hat can I do except work and raise my children?” she said. “Life goes on.”
Edited by Zuo Shou
Article link: http://www.globaltimes.cn/NEWS/tabid/99/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/666231/Dalians-oil-stained-beaches-are-open-but-questions-remain.aspx