PetroChina, NGO reach pretrial settlement over sea pollution

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China's top oil producer PetroChina has agreed to compensate for sea water contamination in a pretrial settlement reached with an environment NGO in the northeastern city of Dalian.

Yang Baixin, chairman of the Dalian Association of Volunteers, said on Thursday that the association has accepted PetroChina's proposal to pay 200 million yuan (32 million U.S. dollars) for the pollution treatment and sea environment protection.

A large area of water in the city was contaminated after a spill from an oil pipeline of PetroChina caused a huge fire at the exit of an urban sewage pipeline on July 1, 2014. Residents nearby were evacuated and no casualties were reported.

The NGO lodged a lawsuit against the oil producer over the crude oil contamination to the Dalian Maritime Court on June 6 this year, demanding compensation up to 645 million yuan.

Yang said although the company's offer did not meet the expected level, the association considered it acceptable.

"The primary aim of the lawsuit was to raise the public awareness in safeguarding their rights of a good environment," he said.

China's revised Environmental Protection Law took effect on Jan. 1, 2015, allowing qualified NGOs to take legal action in environmental matters of public interest.

In May, the trial for the first environmental damage lawsuit filed by NGOs in China was opened in Nanping Municipal Intermediate People's Court in the southeastern province of Fujian.

The case was filed by two NGOs -- Friends of Nature and Fujian Green Home, which accused four people of running an unlicensed quarry that has severely damaged vegetation on a hillside in Nanping City since 2008. They demanded the quarry owners restore the vegetation. They have also asked the defendants to pay 1.3 million yuan in compensation. The court ruling is still pending.

"The new environmental law gives the country's hundreds of NGOs the enthusiasm to use a legal weapon in protecting the public interests," said Zhang Boju, executive director of Friends of Nature.

He said the organization has engaged with a dozen of other NGOs on 20 environmental lawsuits this year. Six of them have been lodged.

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