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Oil Pipeline Explodes, Burns for 15 Hours in China

Mon, 07/19/2010 - 7:15am

BEIJING (AP) — An oil pipeline exploded at a busy Chinese port, sparking a massive fire that burned for 15 hours before it was finally extinguished Saturday. Officials said no one was killed and set their sights on the cleanup, with a dark, brown slick floating on the sea.

State-run media said the pipeline blew up Friday evening, and the blaze raged among tanks at the port in the northern city of Dalian. More than 2,000 firefighters worked overnight to control flames that shot 100 feet (30 meters) into the air.

The cause of the blast was not clear. The Xinhua News Agency said it happened while a Liberian tanker was unloading oil at the port. It said the tanker left safely.

A vast stretch of polluted sea remains the next challenge. About 20 boats were trying to clean up a slick of oil and pollution covering a 20-square-mil (50-square-kilometer) swath off Dalian's Xingang Harbor, Xinhua said.

Dalian's downtown was thick with smog, and environmental protection officials told China National Radio that the scene remained unsafe because of chemicals in the air.

China National Radio said officials were considering the evacuation of about 600 homes nearby.

The pipelines are owned by China National Petroleum Corp., which is Asia's biggest oil and gas producer by volume.

The state-owned company did not immediately comment. Phones at its Beijing headquarters rang unanswered, and while the company website showed updates Saturday, there was no mention of the fire.

Dalian's secretary-general, Xu Guochen, told a news conference Saturday morning that firefighters had turned off valves on all oil tanks at the site.

Xu said the flames gave off gas containing sulfur and aromatic hydrocarbon that were not fatally toxic, Xinhua reported. Xu did not take questions.

Telephones at the offices of the Dalian city government, the city's Communist Party propaganda department and the city firefighting team rang unanswered.

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