Chinese oil giant Sinopec accused of environmental cover-up

A recent environmental audit at subsidiaries of the Chinese oil company Sinopec missed key problems, it has been suggested, with local government under pressure to turn a blind eye.

An investigation into three south-China subsidiaries of oil giant Sinopec has found serious environmental violations and safety hazards at the company’s refineries, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. 

The Ministry of Environmental Protection carried out the audit of the Guangzhou-based firms in the first half of this year and released the results on September 26.
At the Dongxing plant, inspectors found that wastewater from production was being illegally dumped  directly into stormwater systems. The Guangdong Provincial Environmental Protection Bureau had ordered the plant to stop trial production under these conditions, but it later resumed operation without permission.
Another subsidiary, Xinzhongmei, was found to have removed its wastewater treatment technology, as a result of which pollutants were running directly into storm drains through a valve. The company had also installed water pipelines to dilute the sewage before disposal.
The third subsidiary, the Guandong Petrochemical Company, had two emergency storage tanks filled with a large amount of liquid, which could have caused serious environmental pollution in the event of an accident.
Head of the environmental safety inspection group, Zhang Zhimin, said the problems were found despite previous inspections by local environmental watchdogs. These problems carried significant environmental risks and included serious offenses, Zhang said.
Head of Guangdong province’s environmental monitoring team, Zhou Quan, said: “Obviously the sewage was excessive but nobody went to check and nobody went to supervise the issue. The company coerced the local government and claimed to be in support of the national economy and people’s livelihoods. They are, in fact, threatening the health of local residents.”
The Ministry of Environmental Protection has asked Sinopec to conduct an evaluation of all its subsidiaries’ environmental risks. It has also set deadlines for rectifying the issues at Xinzhongmei and Guangzhou Petrochemical Company and order the closure of the Dongxing plant, in accordance with the law.
If the subsidiaries fail to make rectifications, or re-offend, they will be named and shamed in the media and legal action could be taken against them. Meanwhile, if supervision is ineffective, the local area could suffer from limited granting of permissions for new projects.

Translated by chinadialogue volunteer Chris Hay