BEIJING (Reuters) - An explosion in a Sinopec Corp oil pipeline killed 35 people in Qingdao in eastern China on Friday, causing a blaze that took several hours to bring under control and halting operations at a major oil port, media and ship brokers said.
Qingdao is one of China’s largest crude oil import terminals, supplying at least two major Sinopec refineries - the Qingdao plant and Sinopec Qilu Petrochemical Corp - as well as many small, independent refineries.
A Chinese trader said the explosion would disrupt crude flows into China as the blast involved a major pipeline supplying several refineries. European traders said crude and oil product purchases had been suspended.
The explosion in the underground pipeline caused a huge hole to appear in the roadway above and state television showed a truck that had fallen into it, with a residential apartment block in the background.
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.
The Huangdao oil terminal in Qingdao had stopped operations, ship brokers and a port official said.
The local government said on its microblog the blast occurred at 10:30 a.m. (0230 GMT) as workers were trying to repair leaks in the pipeline. It said oil had spilled into the port, which had also caught fire.
However, a port official said: “The port was not affected by the pipeline blast, but tankers were told to sail away from the port as a safety precaution.”
Sinopec confirmed on its microblog that the explosion was caused by a leak in the Huangwei crude oil pipeline. It said the fire was put out at 1 p.m.
State television CCTV, which gave the figure of 35 dead, said 166 people were injured.
“Early investigations showed the spilled oil flowed into the municipal grid, which caused the explosion,” the local government said, giving no further details about the grid.
It said the oil spill had spread across 3,000 square metres of sea water.
Two pipelines at state oil giant PetroChina’s storage site in Dalian exploded in 2010, causing a big oil spill and disrupting crude supply and oil product exports at its refineries for weeks.
A witness in the city said there was a power cut in the area lasting for about two hours after the blast.
The China International Marine Containers (CIMC) factory located nearby closed for a period to rehouse about 500 workers whose dormitories had been damaged.
“Ambulances were still operating after 1 p.m. Glass windows in our dormitories were broken. It’s terrifying,” said worker Zhao Kai.
Sinopec officials could not immediately be reached for comment and it was unclear if there was any impact on the 240,000-barrel-per-day Sinopec Qingdao refinery, which receives imported crude oil cargoes from Huangdao port.
The affected crude oil pipeline connects Huangdao to the city of Weifang in the same province, Shandong.
Additional reporting by Li Hui and Sui-Lee Wee and Beijing newsroom; Florence Tan and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in Singapore; and Grace Li; editing by Michael Urquhart, Alan Raybould, Ron Popeski and James Jukwey