Chinese oil spill reveals research gulf

Lack of data has hampered damage assessment in China, say scientists Copyright: Flcikr/US Geological Survey

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The first, large-scale oil spill in Dalian Bay in China last month has revealed a host of problems with safety management and environmental impact assessment including a dearth of environmental and geochemical studies on such disasters.

"As scientists, we do not have the funding or the opportunity to conduct in-depth research into these accidents," Peng Xianzhi, a scientist at the Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), said.

She added that there is a data gap that needs filling for China to be able to address "long-term solutions to oil spills and other emerging environmental problems".

"The natural science foundation and funding at CAS is supposed to solve key basic scientific issues but not practical problems," Peng said. "On the other hand, researchers at environmental and oceanology departments are only concerned about solving immediate problems rather than long-term observation and scientific assessment."

This lack of research has meant that the exact damage caused by the spill has been difficult to assess.

Although 18 scientists from CAS Qingdao Institute of Oceanology reported no spread of oil 20-40 miles away from the spill, some scientists believe that the officials and the China National Petroleum Corporation were not equipped to deal with the accident and that ecological impacts might prove worse than officially acknowledged.