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Back in November an oil pipeline running through the Chinese city of Qingdao in Shandong province exploded, killing 62 people. It turns out that the pipeline was punctured on average twice a week by thieves siphoning off the oil, and that despite this it had passed a safety check just two months earlier.
An investigation into the cause of the explosion, which is the worst ever experienced by China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (Sinopec), has found that the most likely reason for the blast was crude oil that had leaked from one of the many perforations into urban storm drains.
Pipeline explosions and leaks are becoming more of a threat to China's people as both the country's pipeline network and cities expand quickly, covering more ground and inevitably coming into contact with each other more often.
A source working at Sinopec told Reuters that the Dongying-Huangdao II pipeline is tapped more than 100 times a year, and yet still it managed to pass an internal safety inspection in September.
Yang Dongliang, the national director at the State Administration of Work Safety, said that the explosion highlighted the problems caused by the layouts of oil pipelines and urban drainage systems, the lack of pipeline supervision, and the inefficient manner in which oil leaks are addressed and cleaned-up.
Driven by a surging demand for energy, China has become the world's largest net importer of oil and its consumption of natural gas is growing at a vast rate. In order to transport these growing volumes of fuel around the country the network of pipelines has increased from 40,000 kilometres, in 2004, to more than 100,000 kilometres.
With more pipelines criss-crossing the country, and urban development covering more acres than ever, thieves have the perfect cover to break into pipelines, siphon off the fuel they can, and then leave the scene of the crime having suffered very few witnesses. Unfortunately these breaches continue to leak, and can lead to larger problems, as was the case in this instance.
Lin Boqiang, director of the China Centre for Energy Economics at Xiamen University, explained that "the problem of energy thieves and the clash with urban infrastructure hasn't been given enough attention."
Back in 2011 and 2012 Sinopec warned the local government of the city of Weifang that the rapid urbanisation programs near to the Dongying-Huangdao II pipeline was preventing access and therefore the vital repair works needed to be carried out on the pipeline.
In 2011 Sinopec advised the Weifang bureau for environmental protection, that "with the expansion of cities, suburban areas have become downtown areas with lots of buildings and dense population. The spaces around pipelines have been occupied, resulting in inability to conduct maintenance."
Reuters claims that Sinopec has previously applied for approval to reroute its oil pipelines away from urban areas in order to reduce the risks to the general population.
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