CNPC : China's dirty giant petroleum corporation
While the environmental crimes of ancient and powerful Western petroleum companies like Chevron, Exxon or Shell are well documented, they are finding some new competitors in emerging countries. Indeed the petroleum companies of China are on the rise, and, guess what, they are every bit as terrible as their Western counterparts, perhaps even worse because the Chinese citizens don't have the right to fight the abuse they suffer from them. PetroChina, the Chinese leader of the oil industry is also the 4th biggest oil company in the world, and is linked to an insane number of environmental disasters as well as blatant corruption cases.
An appalling track record of lethal technological disasters[edit | edit source]
The communication teams of PetroChina would have you believe that their company is responsible and tries to lower its carbon emissions to join “the global effort in tackling climate change”. However, the facts tell a very different story and PetroChina's history is full to the brim with accidents that affected and endangered large populations, leading to many deaths in numerous cases.
In 2003 a gas leak occurred in the area of Chongqing, in the Southwest of China, and covered a 25 square-kilometre area with a lethal cloud of natural gas and hydrogen sulphide. The leak was caused by an explosion of the well, when the drillers stumbled into a highly pressurized gas store. Usually, procedures exist to burn or contain the gas when a leak happens, but in this case, nothing had been planned and the gas crept out into the area surrounding the well, filling the houses of nerby villages. Some residents died in their sleep while others tried to escape the gas but were suffocated before they could get away. Altogether, 242 people were killed, 9000 were hurt and over 40,000 had to leave their homes in order to survive. In Xiaoyang, the village closest to the drilling site, 90 % of the people died, including of course the women, the children and the elderly. The drilling was conducted by the Chuandong Drilling Company, a subsidiary of PetroChina, and 6 employees of the company were sentenced to prison for negligence in 2004. Far from learning from the accident, PetroChina's subsidiary carried on as usual and in 2006, another similar leak happened in the very same area ! Fortunately, no one was hurt but 5,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes and told not to drink the water from the river because they had been heavily polluted by the methane from the well.
In 2005, another activity of PetroChina caused a deadly incident, its chemical production from the area of Jilin. On November 13th, several blasts originated in a workshop of the N°101 factory of PetroChina in Jilin, in the Northeast of China. The explosions were caused by the jamming of a nitration unit that wasn't handled correctly. This led to the killing of 6 people and the injury of 70 more according to the People's Daily. The magnitude of the explosions could be measured by residents of the area because of the columns of smoke rising from the plant. Also, the blast shattered the glass from windows 200 meters away. While the deaths caused by the explosions already constitute a terrible environmental disaster, the other consequences were also extremely serious. A benzene leak poured out of the factory and into the Songhua river leading to an ecological crisis for the whole province ! The 100 tons of chemicals flowing down the river made it unsafe for the 4 million inhabitants of Harbin to drink the water, even though the city was almost a hundred miles away from the factory and in another province ! Indeed, one week after the explosion, the amount of nitrobenzene in the water was 30 times higher than the national safety standard ! Of course, the local authorities were all but transparent and didn't reveal why the water supply had been shut down, which was a completely irresponsible thing to do. But the core responsibility lies with PetroChina and Chinese officials made that very clear, probably to tone down their own. Zhang Lijun, the deputy director of the State Environmental Protection Agency pointed an accusatory finger at the oil company : “We will be very clear about who's responsible. It's the chemical plant of the CNPC”, the parent company of PetroChina.
And these disasters are not exceptions, they keep happening because PetroChina just doesn't follow the safety measures to prevent them from happening, just like its American counterparts. In 2006, a pipeline carrying gas burst, killing 9 people and injured almost 40 in Sichuan Province, in the Southwest of China. The pipeline, and therefore the responsibility for the disaster, both belong to PetroChina. In 2010, another of PetroChina's pipelines ruptured in the Northwest of China, spilling 150 cubic meters of diesel in Chishui and Weihe rivers, which both flow into the Yellow River, the second longest river in the country. The Environmental Protection Agency chose to downplay the disaster and claimed that the water quality was still within the standards. However, such a leak obviously had adverse effects on the health of the people who depend on the Yellow River's water. The same year, two pipelines exploded in the port of Dalian, in the Northeast of China. The blast caused a massive fire that could only be contained after 15 hours of intense work from 2,000 firefighters. Meanwhile, the oil poured into the water and spread out into the Yellow Sea, over a surface of 180 square kilometers. In total, 1,500 tons of crude oil leaked into the sea, an environmental nightmare again caused by the negligence of PetroChina.
An incredibly corrupt state-owned enterprise[edit | edit source]
If the environmental crimes weren't serious enough, it also appears that PetroChina is linked to many corruption cases and that the company is accustomed to using illegal means to expand its activity. And it makes perfect senses. The environmental crimes of companies like PetroChina or Exxon don't exist only because the environmental regulations are weak. It's true that they are not strong enough in most countries, but an even bigger problem is that even when there are some rules protecting the environment, big fossil fuel companies can bully their way out of respecting them. And that's exactly what PetroChina has done in the last decades.
As such, the executives of PetroChina have been hit very hard by the recent campaigns against corruption. In 2009, two high ranking managers were removed from office and interrogated on the ties they had with Bo Xilai, a former rising star of Chinese politics that was tried for corruption and murder. The executives were also suspected of being involved in murky deals PetroChina had struck with Canada to secure oil deposits, including the terribly polluting oil sands of Athabasca. The corruption probes into PetroChina became even stronger after Xi Jinping took power in 2012. He pledged to root out corruption, especially in the administration and state-owned companies like Chinese National Petroleum Company, the government corporation behind PetroChina. In 2013, three more high-ranking officials were put under investigation and had to resign from their positions. They were suspected of “severe breaches of discipline”, which is the Communist Party euphemism to say “corruption”. But the biggest symbol of how deeply corruption is rooted inside PetroChina was the downfall of its former chairman Jiang Jiemin, in 2015. The man who had led PetroChina and then become minister of State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission was suddenly condemned to 16 years of prison for bribery and abuse of power. Indeed, the authorities had confiscated 1 million yuan ($157,000) from him and he had been unable to explain how he had earned that money.
A string of corruption cases that prove that PetroChina is truly rotten to the core, and that very much like the other fossil fuel companies, it has stopped to nothing to expand its operations, using bribery to secure oil deposits or to slow down the implementation of regulations that would be detrimental to their business, even if they can improve the health of the public and the environment.