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Following marine oil leakage, Thailand tightens regulations
by Staff Writers
Bangkok (UPI) Aug 14, 2013

China court rejects oil spill lawsuit: official
Beijing (AFP) Aug 15, 2013 - A Chinese court has dismissed a legal action against the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) for allowing US oil major ConocoPhillips to resume production after spills off northern China, an official said Thursday.

"The conclusion of the case is dismissal," a member of staff at the Beijing No.1 Intermediate People's Court, who did not give her name, told AFP.

The state-backed All-China Environment Federation launched an administrative misconduct lawsuit against the SOA last month.

It is rare for a Chinese official agency to face court action from another government-backed entity.

The case related to oil spills in June 2011 at the offshore Penglai field, jointly developed by ConocoPhillips and state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation, which saw 3,000 barrels of oil and oil-based mud vent into the sea.

ConocoPhillips was ordered to cease production in September 2011 following the spills, which the SOA classified as "severe accidents".

But the agency approved the resumption of production in February this year, despite the lack of any public hearings or feasibility studies, reports said.

The lawsuit came amid vows by the Communist Party to crack down on official corruption and pressure officials to be more accountable for their actions as it seeks to assuage public frustrations.

The SOA has responsibility for a wide range of oceanic and maritime laws and policies, including safeguarding maritime rights and interests, according to its website.

The Thai government is tightening environmental regulations in the wake of last month's massive oil spill.

The July 27 leak occurred in PTT Global Chemical Plc's pipeline at a mooring used to transfer oil from the seabed to a tanker off the eastern province of Rayong, threatening a major tourist site, Ao Prao beach on the island of Koh Samet. Roughly 13,200 gallons of oil leaked into the sea.

PTT Global Chemical is a part of the state-owned oil and gas company, PTT Plc, known as PTTEP, Thailand's largest energy conglomerate.

Seeking to contain the damage as quickly as possible, PTT Global Chemical sought assistance from the regional office of Oil Spill Response Ltd. in Singapore to send experts.

PTTEP released a statement apologizing for the spill.

"As of today, the oil leak's impact at Prao Bay has been solved and the emergency situation there has now been terminated," the statement said. "The next phase is the recovery of the environment of which a plan is being prepared. This includes a plan for assisting the affected victims of the situation."

Thailand's Energy Ministry said the incident is the fourth major oil spill in Thailand's history. In 2009, another PTTEP subsidiary was involved in the Montara oil spill, one of Australia's worst oil disasters, in the Timor Sea off Western Australia.

In the aftermath of the incident, Energy Minister Pongsak Raktapongpaisal ordered the overhaul of measures currently applied by petroleum producers in maritime, pipeline and road transport.

"I can assure the public that we have responded to this incident 100 percent with the procedures and equipment that we have on hand," the Bangkok Post Wednesday quoted him as saying.

Siri Jirapongphan, executive director of the Petroleum Institute of Thailand, said though Thailand "has adopted strict standards and applied best practices, with regular drills aimed at preventing and tackling accidents ... we can build on those standards by identifying and addressing weaknesses.

"The open sea off Rayong is subject to strong winds, and thus equipment deployed for an accident such as occurred there should be appropriate."

After meeting with 50 petroleum transport operators, Pongsak ordered the reform of maritime pipeline and road transport rules.

The spill has the potential to affect Thailand's tourism industry, which is an important source of national revenue. In 2012 Bangkok became the world's most visited city, with 15.98 million international visitors spending at least one night.

But reining in PTTEP is a difficult issue, as the company is quite diversified and has invested in 41 exploration and production activities with investments in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Oman, Egypt, Algeria, Bahrain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.


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