The State Oceanic Administration (SOA) confirmed to the Global Times on Sunday that they are aware of being charged with administrative misconduct for giving production restoration permission to the US-based ConocoPhillips in Bohai Bay.
The official response came after a lawsuit was filed on Friday by the All-China Environment Federation. "We will give the public an explanation soon," Li Mousheng, director of the SOA's press office, told the Global Times.
ConocoPhillips was ordered to suspend its production in the bay in September 2011, following a series of oil spills in the oil field jointly owned by the State-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation and ConocoPhillips in June of that year.
The spills, rated as "severe accidents" by the SOA, tainted some 10 percent of Bohai Bay.
Xu Hongliang, the lawyer representing the federation, told the Global Times that the SOA approved ConocoPhillips production in February 2013 without public hearings or feasibility studies, which contradicted some regulations.
"The federation demanded the SOA make public how it handled the permission, as ConocoPhillips' environmental assessment was approved within a month of it being submitted in October 2012," Xu said, adding that the assessment was carried out by a party that has business links with the company.
Two spill-affected aquaculture companies in Dongying, Shandong Province, also sued the SOA for administrative inaction after it failed to use the compensation from ConocoPhillips to fix the damages following the spills.
"Some 1.09 billion yuan ($116 million) was paid to the SOA by ConocoPhillips to clear up the pollution, while the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) received another 1 billion yuan as compensation to affected households and enterprises," Xu added.
"The best time to salvage the damaged ecologic environment has passed," Xu said, adding that the two cases have been submitted to the No.1 Intermediate People's Court in Beijing.
"Only some households in neighboring Hebei Province have been compensated and the MOA could not give us an explanation why," Xu noted, adding that the SOA replied that they were still seeking public opinions from related departments to decide how to use the money.
The court should give a response within seven days, either accepting or rejecting the case, according to Xu, pointing out that courts usually chose to be silent when dealing with ConocoPhillips-related cases.
Tang Huadong, a lawyer from Deheng Law Firm, told the Global Times that he wonders who is behind ConocoPhillips as his application for information disclosure from the SOA in February was unsuccessful.
"I simply hope that this case can be heard at the court and the SOA can provide enough solid evidence to justify itself," Xu said.