China’s worst known oil spill is dozens of times larger than the government has reported – bigger than the famous Exxon Valdez spill two decades ago – and some of the oil was dumped deliberately to avoid further disaster, an American expert said Friday.
China’s government has said 1,500 tons (461,790 gallons) of oil spilled after a pipeline exploded two weeks ago near the northeastern city of Dalian, sending 100-foot- (30-meter-) high flames raging for hours near one of the country’s key strategic oil reserves. Such public estimates stopped within a few days of the spill.
But Rick Steiner, a former University of Alaska marine conservation specialist, estimated 60,000 tons (18.47 million gallons) to 90,000 tons (27.70 million gallons) of oil actually spilled into the Yellow Sea.
“It’s enormous. That’s at least as large as the official estimate of the Exxon Valdez disaster” in Alaska, he told The Associated Press. The size of the offshore area affected by the spill is likely more than 400 square miles (1,000 square kilometers), he added.
Update, 8:49 PM: Civilians have been called in for the clean-up effort. From Xinhua:
On Friday, the local government encouraged the public to join in the operation, announcing a bounty of 100 yuan for each full barrel and 50 yuan for each empty one that local people brought in.
It was not clear whether professional handling was needed for the chemicals, but a local official said many riverside residents “had experience in salvage.”
[…] Heilongjiang on Friday also sent soldiers and workers to six points on the lower reaches of the river as water resources experts predicted the flow might carry the first barrels into the province late Friday.
However, helicopter spotters who have been tracking the barrels have lost sight of some of them. Experts fear they may have sunk into the river — making their retrieval more difficult.