Oil-polluted Yan River not fit for agricultural irrigation

YANAN, June 14 — Water quality in Shaanxi Province’s Yan River Basin once dropped to below “class V”, making it unsuitable even for agricultural irrigation, according to an inspection team of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), which visited Yanan to check the local government’s implementation of three environmental protection laws on solid waste, water and air pollution.

Yanan city’s sole source of drinking water, Wangyao Reservoir, lies 65km (40 miles) northwest. The NPC team recorded eight oil plants, 1,133 oil wells and around 320km of oil pipelines within the reservoir valley, posing serious pollution risks.

A more serious problem exists in the Yan River basin, which has 26,000 wells and more than 800km of pipelines.

“Oil pollution of the Yan River is serious and protecting the water source is going to be an arduous task,” said Xu Yongqing, head of the inspection team and member of the NPC Standing Committee.

The worst offender is Shaanxi Yanchang Petroleum Group, China’s fourth largest oil corporation formed in 2005 from the merger of 21 smaller oil companies and three refineries.

The inspection team found only 53% of its yearly 6.4 million tonnes (7.1 million tons) of waste water was properly treated before discharge in the city. The remaining polluted water was injected underground or discharged into rivers. It’s illegal,” said Han Changan, director of the Yanan environmental protection bureau.

Yet the NPC imposed only RMB1.2 million (US$153,000) in fines for unlawful waste discharge practices last year, most from Yanchang,” says Han.

Fines fail to discourage such behaviour, especially for large businesses like Yanchang, adds Han. The key lies in persuading businesses to set up water treatment facilities and enhance their environmental protection awareness.

“We’ve worked out a five-year plan to deal with petroleum pollution. Yanchang is required to invest RMB2 billion in building treatment facilities in five years.”

Under the plan, all petroleum businesses in Yanan are required to improve their water treatment capacity and upgrade pipelines to ensure safe oil transfer in a bid to control oil pollution in three years and achieve a clean environment in five years.

Han Changan says his bureau received more than 400 reports of pollution, most related to oil, last year.

Since 2002, Yanan has forced Changqing Oil Company, a subsidiary of China Petroleum, to close 51 wells in the reservoir basin and the remaining 26 by the end of this year. More than 70% of wells along the Yan River valley now have basic waste disposal facilities. The water quality of the river has now been labelled “class IV” and suitable for industrial use.

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