China's top leaders have ordered an investigation into oil spills in China's Bohai Bay that have drawn intense criticism from marine authorities and environmentalists, adding to pressures on oil field operator ConocoPhillips.
A notice calling for the probe was posted on the government's website following a meeting of the State Council, or Cabinet, on Wednesday.
"We must completely identify the cause of the accident, identify the damage and losses caused by the accident, and determine who shall be held responsible to maintain the legitimate rights and interests of all parties damaged," it said.
The government has already ordered ConocoPhillips China, which operates the Penglai 19-3 oil field with state-owned partner China National Offshore Oil Corp., to stop all production pending a full clean-up and review to ensure no more oil seeps into the sea.
China's maritime authorities contend that Houston, Texas-based ConocoPhillips failed to meet an Aug. 31 deadline for permanently staunching and cleaning up the spills, which began in June. The company says it met the deadline.
Despite efforts to cut back on pollution from farming, cities and industries, the Bohai's environmental state is "very serious," the State Council notice said. It reiterated its plans to help cut back on effluent from factories and mining and to expand sewage treatment.
Environmental experts say such measures have failed to keep pace with the fast expansion of industries and oil drilling in the area, leading to the decimation of seafood and fish stocks and frequent red tides.
ConocoPhillips said Wednesday it plans a fund to cover costs resulting from the spills meant to cover its responsibilities under Chinese law and to "benefit the general environment in Bohai Bay." It did not say how much money would go into the fund.
"ConocoPhillips deeply regrets these incidents and apologizes for the impact that the incidents have had on the Chinese people and the environment," James J. Mulva, the company's chairman and CEO said in a statement.
The company said it would work with the authorities and CNOOC on details of setting up and operating the fund.
China's Oceanic Administration has said it plans to pursue legal action over the spills, including losses to regional fisheries.
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