China agency sued over oil production in spill-hit bay

BEIJING (AFP) - China's State Oceanic Administration (SOA) is being sued for allowing US oil major ConocoPhillips to resume production after spills off northern China in 2011, state media reported on Monday.

The Global Times newspaper, affiliated with the ruling Communist Party, said the SOA confirmed it was being pursued for administrative misconduct.

The action is being mounted by the All-China Environment Federation, which describes itself on its website as a non-profit civil society organisation supported by the government.

It is rare for a Chinese official agency to face court action from another government-backed entity.

The spills in June 2011 at the offshore Penglai field, jointly developed by ConocoPhillips and state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation, allowed more than 3,000 barrels of oil and oil-based mud - used as a lubricant in drilling - to vent into Bohai Bay.

ConocoPhillips was ordered to cease production in September 2011 following the spills, which the SOA classified as "severe accidents", the Global Times said.

It approved the resumption of production in February this year although no public hearings or feasibility studies were held, the paper quoted Mr Xu Hongliang, the Federation's lawyer, as saying.

The suit comes amid vows by the Party to crack down on official corruption and pressure officials to be more accountable for their actions as it seeks to keep public anger in check and maintain its more than six-decade rule.

Mr Xu said the No. 1 Intermediate People's Court in Beijing should say within seven days whether it will accept or reject the case, the paper added.

It quoted Mr Li Mousheng, director of the SOA press office, as saying: "We will give the public an explanation soon."

The SOA has responsibility for a wide range of oceanic and maritime laws and policies, including safeguarding maritime rights and interests, according to its website.

A media spokesperson at ConocoPhillips' Beijing office could not immediately be reached for comment.

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