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Key gas agreement signed

The agreement, signed by President Hu Jintao and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov after a meeting on Wednesday morning, will increase annual gas deliveries by 25 billion cubic meters a year, bringing the annual total to 65 billion cubic meters "in the near future", Berdymukhamedov told reporters after the signing ceremony.

The figure - 65 billion cubic meters - is equivalent to more than half of China's entire natural gas consumption last year.

During their meeting, Hu also pledged to deepen energy cooperation with Turkmenistan and establish "a long-term and stable strategic energy partnership" following the success of a natural gas pipeline between the two countries, which became operational in 2009.

China, the world's second-largest economy, has been diversifying and expanding access to energy needed to power its fast-growing economy and reduce its reliance on heavily polluting coal.

Turkmenistan has adopted a diversified energy export strategy to shake off its dependence on sales to Russia. Besides expanding gas exports to nearby Iran and launching a pipeline to China, it has also won strong support from the European Union and the United States for plans to supply gas to a trans-Caspian pipeline that will run to Europe via Azerbaijan.

Gao Fei, a researcher on Central Asia studies at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, said the signed natural gas agreement would greatly assist China in diversifying its energy sources.

China and Turkmenistan launched a natural gas pipeline in Central Asia in December 2009. The 1,833-km pipeline is the longest in the world and had delivered 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas to China by the end of May this year.

The gas agreement was one of 14 signed following the leaders' talks on Wednesday. Others cover loans for the purchase of oil and gas drilling equipment, public security cooperation, recognition of degrees, combating money laundering and tackling terrorism.

"China highly values its relations with Turkmenistan," said Hu, adding that it is a policy of the government to develop friendly and cooperative relations with Turkmenistan on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit.

Considering China as a top-priority strategic partner of Turkmenistan, Berdymukhamedov, who is in China for a four-day visit, told Hu his country appreciates China's respect for Turkmenistan's neutral status.

Both sides agreed to enhance security and law enforcement cooperation, promising joint efforts to fight terrorism, separatism and extremism, and cross-border crimes. China became Turkmenistan's largest trade partner in 2011, with bilateral trade rising to $3.56 billion in the first three quarters.

Web link: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/bizchina/2011-11/24/content_14156049.htm

Suit claims oil spill harmed fishermen

BEIJING - A lawyer representing 30 Shandong province fishermen feels confident about his chances of succeeding in a lawsuit he recently filed against companies he believes are responsible for the ongoing oil leak in Bohai Bay.

Jia Fangyi, a lawyer at the Beijing-based Great Wall Law Firm, is asking for the parties that are found responsible for the leak to pay 30 million yuan ($4.7 million) in compensation for the economic damage they caused.

His clients calculate that amount will be enough to make up for the loss of their early investments - estimated to be worth 7 million yuan - and their average yearly profits of about 13 million yuan to 14 million yuan.

Jia said the 30 fishermen only constitute a small number of the people who have been harmed by the disaster and that more than 700 are awaiting compensation.

The oil spill originated in Penglai 19-3, the country's largest offshore oilfield, which was developed by the China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) and is now operated by the US-based ConocoPhillips. Jia said the law places the onus on those companies to disprove certain claims that his lawsuit makes against them.

"The victims of the oil spill cannot prove there is a link between the damage and the leak without cooperation from ConocoPhillips and its partner CNOOC," Jia said.

Jia sent the lawsuit by express mail to the Qingdao Maritime Court on Friday and it is expected to arrive on Monday. Phone calls to the court were not immediately returned.

Regulations give the court a week to decide if it will accept the suit.

Qu Baozheng, one of the 30 fishermen who filed the lawsuit, said the spill has caused nearly all the scallops he has raised to die.
More than 200 lawyers from about 20 Chinese law firms are now helping fishermen affected by the spill to conduct investigations or file lawsuits. But because a direct connection between their losses and the disaster has yet to be established, no court has so far accepted the suits.

Jia said he is confident about his lawsuit's chances. He explained that in tort claims concerning environmental pollution, the defendants - ConocoPhillips and CNOOC in this instance - are responsible for proving that they have not caused the deaths of aquatic creatures.

"If the court still rejects the suit, it is not that we haven't taken the correct legal procedures, but something beyond the law is blocking us," Jia said.

He said the case will show if the courts represent giant energy companies or the common people.

But Wang Yamin, an associate professor from Shandong University's marine college, said he is not optimistic about the case's prospects.

Even though Jia can try to place the onus of disapproving the lawsuit's claims on the defendants, he "still has to prove the harm to the fishermen was caused by oil pollution", Wang said.

He said the suit bears many similarities to one that was filed earlier by fishermen in Laoting, Hebei province, and was eventually rejected by the court.

On Nov 11, the State Oceanic Administration released an investigation report on the Penglai 19-3 oil leak. The report blamed the disaster on ConocoPhillips' illegal operating procedures.

Learning of that incensed Jia.

"It is like a car accident that many people die in," he said. "But instead of saving (the other victims) at once, the authorities are spending months to investigate what's wrong with the car."

The oil leak has polluted 6,200 square kilometers of water in Bohai, an area roughly nine times the size of Singapore, according to the investigation report.

In August, the State Oceanic Administration said in a statement that a lawsuit will be filed against the companies found responsible for the series of leaks that began appearing in the bay starting in June. But no further legal actions have been taken.

In mid-September, ConocoPhillips China and CNOOC announced a plan to establish two funds for the damages caused by the spill, but no details about the funds have been released so far.

Web link: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2011-11/22/content_14137477.htm

3rd gas pipeline to open in '13

The 5,200 kilometer (km) project will include one artery, six branch lines, three gas storage facilities and a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal, the source said, adding that the pipeline will run from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region to the city of Fuzhou in Fujian province.

Work on pipelines four and five will be initiated sometime after 2015. Each pipeline will have an annual transmission capacity of about 30bcm and support the supply of gas to the country's industrialized coastal regions, the source said.

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan will be the major sources of supply for all the planned pipelines.

Figures released by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) on Wednesday show that Chinese imports of natural gas rose 86.5 percent year-on-year to about 25 bcm, of which 12.3 bcm came from Central Asia and the remainder was tanker-transported LNG.

The third pipeline will be part of an overall project for the transportation of natural gas between the west and east of the country. The project was officially approved by the State Council in 2000 and is aimed at propelling economic growth in the west and bolstering gas supplies in the booming east.

The project is operated by PetroChina Co Ltd, the listed arm of the country's biggest energy conglomerate, China National Petroleum Corporation.

The first phase of the project - which has a total length of 4,200 km and connects Xinjiang and the financial center of Shanghai - became operational in October 2004 with 12 bcm of designed transmission capability annually. In 2008, construction started on the 8,704 km second phase, which has an annual transmission capacity of 30 bcm.

Earlier this year, Xinhua News Agency quoted Liao Yongyuan, PetroChina's vice-president, as saying that the second pipeline will be put into operation in June 2012.

Liao added that the third line will provide additional supplies of natural gas to the eastern costal regions to ease shortages during seasonal peaks. The pipeline will also improve supply flexibility for the entire project.

Demand for natural gas has soared in China over recent years, partly because of the fuel's relatively low price when compared with oil, but also as the government pushes to replace dirty fossil fuels with cleaner energies to lower emissions.

The nation's "apparent" consumption of natural gas - including domestic production and imports, but excluding exports - hit 104.1 bcm between January and October, a rise of 20.4 percent year-on-year, according to the NDRC.

Natural gas consumption rose to 109 bcm in 2010 from 40 bcm in 2004 as China overtook Japan to become the biggest consumer in Asia, according to Bradley Way, head of Asia Energy of BNP Paribas SA.

As such, China has accelerated pipeline construction to meet demand. The total pipeline length is expected to double to 140,000 km by 2015, more than half of which will transport gas, said Kou Zhong, deputy director of the Pipeline Engineering Department at the PetroChina Planning and Engineering Institute.

CNPC will eventually operate more than 70 percent of the pipelines, Kou said.

Web link: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/bizchina/2011-11/17/content_14110853.htm

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