China's largest reported oil spill has more than doubled in size to 165 square miles on July 21,2010, forcing beaches to close and prompting officials to warn of a "severe threat" to sea life and water quality. The oil slick started spreading July 16, 2010, when a pipeline at a northeastern port exploded, sparking a fire that took well over 15 hours to contain. Hundreds of boats have been deployed to help with the cleanup. At least one person has been killed in those efforts, a 25-year-old firefighter, Zhang Liang, who drowned Tuesday after a wave threw him from a vessel and pushed him out to sea. Beaches near Dalian, once named China's most livable city, were closing as oil started reaching their shores. "The oil spill will pose a severe threat to marine animals, water quality and the sea birds," says Huang Yong, deputy bureau chief for Dalian, China Maritime Safety Administration.
The amount of oil spilled in the explosion was still not clear Wednesday, though China Central Television earlier reported an estimate of 1,500 tons. That would amount roughly to 400,000 gallons — as compared with 94 million to 184 million gallons in the BP oil spill off the U.S. coast. State Oceanic Administration released the latest size of the contaminated area in a statement on July 20, 2010. Though the slick has continued to expand — it covered a 70 square-mile stretch earlier this week — officials maintain no more oil was leaking into the Yellow Sea. The cause of the pipeline blast remains unclear. The pipeline is owned by China National Petroleum Corp., Asia's biggest oil and gas producer by volume.
Images of 100 foot-high flames shooting up near part of China's strategic oil reserves late Friday drew the immediate attention of President Hu Jintao and other top leaders. "Our priority is to collect the spilled oil within five days to reduce the possibility of contaminating international waters," says Dalian's vice mayor, Dai Yulin. However, an official with the State Oceanic Administration warned the spill will be difficult to clean up even in twice that amount of time. The Dalian port is China's second largest for crude oil imports, and last week's spill appears to be the country's biggest in recent memory.