Chinese officials said Monday one of the nation's worst oil spills had been cleaned up 10 days after a massive explosion sent an estimated 1,500 tons of crude into the Yellow Sea along the northeastern port city of Dalian. "This is a victory," the city's mayor, Li Wancai, told the Dalian Daily News on Monday. "The slick has been completely removed, and the oil has not spread to international waters or the Bohai Sea." Bohai is a northwestern arm of the Yellow Sea, off the coast of northern China. Li credited thousands of local fishermen and residents with cleaning up the spill, which occurred after a pipeline explosion July 16. The cleanup consisted of spraying oil-dispersant chemicals, planting oil-consuming bacteria and scooping up the thickest part of the oil into plastic barrels.
There were no casualties in the explosion and ensuing fire, though one firefighter drowned after being swept from a boat by a wave. Environmentalists say that although the majority of the oil has been removed, damage in other areas is still extensive. Han Xu, a member of Greenpeace, which has been involved in cleanup efforts in Dalian since the explosion, says some nearby bays and other parts of the water are still covered in the slick. Fishing has been banned until the end of summer, and some aquaculture farms already are seeing their crop output drop drastically. "More devastating are the beaches that are totally covered in oil," Han said. Han said local children continued to play on the contaminated beaches, and tourists were still swimming in the water. He said some residents were seen trying to clean up the oil from the ground with their bare hands.
Greenpeace says detrimental effects on the environmental could be seen for the next 30 to 40 years, if not longer. Officials said the July 16 incident occurred when workers injected desulfurizer into a pipeline — part of the refinement process — and a fireball was ignited, sending flames hundreds of feet into the air. Fire raged at the harbor for 15 hours, shrouding the city in smoke. The burst pipeline eventually spewed enough oil to cover 140 square miles with about 47,600 gallons of crude. By comparison, the U.S. oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is estimated to have spilled from 94 million to 184 million gallons of oil.