Qingdao oil flow halted as explosion toll hits 47

Reuters
Rescuers walk past a wrecked car on a damaged road covered with debris a day after an explosion at a Sinopec Corp oil pipeline in Huangdao
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Rescuers walk past a wrecked car on a damaged road covered with debris a day after an explosion at a Sinopec Corp oil pipeline in Huangdao, Qingdao, Shandong Province November 23, 2013. REUTERS/Aly Song

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Crude pipelines have been shut-off in the eastern Chinese oil hub of Qingdao pending safety checks a day after a leak triggered a huge explosion that killed 47 people, a refinery official and state media said on Saturday.

Qingdao is one of China's largest crude oil import terminals, supplying at least two major Sinopec Corp refineries - the Qingdao plant and Sinopec Qilu Petrochemical Corp - as well as many small, independent refineries.

An official at the Qilu refinery said the city government had halted the flow of oil in all of the city's pipelines for safety inspections, which meant crude deliveries to all refineries in the city were temporarily cut off.

Qilu has not stopped refining nor reduced production but it was now drawing down its crude inventories, which will last about four to five days, the official said by telephone from Shandong province.

Qilu has a crude processing capacity of 220,000 bpd.

Calls to Sinopec's Qingdao refinery went unanswered.

The blast on Friday killed 47 people, Xinhua said. It caused a blaze that took several hours to bring under control and halted operations at the major oil port, media and ship brokers said.

The leaking pipeline had been in use since July 1986, with an annual oil transfer capacity of 10 million tons, Xinhua said. It measures 711 mm (28 in) in diameter and runs 248.52 km (154.4 miles).

After the explosion the Huangdao oil terminal in Qingdao stopped operations, ship brokers and a port official said on Friday. The local government said oil had spilled into the port, which had also caught fire, but a port official said the port had not been affected.

The disaster appeared to be Sinopec's deadliest and was one of the worst industrial disasters in China this year. In June, a fire at a poultry factory in the northeast killed 121 people.

The explosion comes as authorities scrutinize possible corruption at China's leading oil companies. Former head of China National Petroleum Company, Jiang Jiemin, and other senior officials at Petrochina were placed under investigation in September.

Sinopec Chairman Fu Chengyu apologized to the people of Qingdao during a visit to the scene, the company's Weibo microblog said on Saturday.

"(We) will do whatever it takes to go all out in rescue, relief and rehabilitation work, coordinating with the State Council incident investigation group to find the cause," it said.

President Xi Jinping called on local authorities to "spare no effort to rescue the injured and strengthen safety to eradicate such incidents", state news agency Xinhua said.

(Reporting by John Ruwitch and Fayen Wong)