BEIJING — China’s worst known oil spill is dozens of times larger than the government has reported — bigger than the
China’s government has said 462,000 gallons of oil spilled after a pipeline exploded two weeks ago near the northeastern city of Dalian, sending 100-foot-high flames raging for hours near one of the country’s key strategic oil reserves. Such public estimates stopped within a few days of the spill.
But Rick Steiner, a former University of Alaska marine conservation specialist, estimated 18.5 million gallons to 27.7 million gallons of oil spilled into the Yellow Sea.
“It’s enormous. That’s at least as large as the official estimate of the Exxon Valdez disaster’’ in Alaska, he said. The size of the offshore area affected by the spill is probably more than 400 square miles, he added.
The estimates could complicate China’s efforts to move on from its latest environmental disaster: Dalian’s mayor already declared a “decisive victory’’ in the oil spill cleanup, state media reported this week.
The spill has caused at least one death when a cleanup worker drowned in the sticky crude, and thousands of Dalian residents have used everything from their bare hands to chopsticks to pick the goo from the sea.
Steiner, who worked on the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, announced the China estimates after touring the oil spill area as a consultant for the environmental group Greenpeace China. “It’s habitual for governments to understate oil spills,’’ Steiner told a news conference. “But the severity of the discrepancy is unusual here.’’
An official with Dalian’s information department said he was not aware of Steiner’s estimates and had no comment.
The government has said the pipeline exploded July 16 after workers continued to inject an agent to strip sulfur from oil after a tanker had finished unloading its cargo.