BEIJING - The country's top legislature has highlighted the safety of its offshore pipelines, amid growing worldwide concern following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The latest draft law on oil and natural gas pipelines has authorized the State Council, the country's Cabinet, to make a detailed regulation to protect its offshore pipelines.
According to China's Legislation Law, a draft law usually receives three reviews before being adopted. The third draft law on the protection of oil and natural gas pipelines is expected to be submitted for voting when the current legislative session ends on Friday.
The new article comes at a time when the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the worst in the history of the United States, prompted countries to review the protection of natural resources, particularly those at sea.
On April 20, the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon leased by BP PLC exploded. Up to 60,000 barrels (2.5 million gallons) of oil has since been pouring into the sea every day from a blown-out undersea well.
During the draft law's second review at the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee at the end of April, a number of committee members proposed that it clarify its application for offshore pipelines, said Zhang Bailin, vice-chairman of the NPC Law Committee.
"Some members even suggested that the law include detailed stipulations," he said.
However, because oil and natural gas are mainly transported through pipelines on land, the NPC Law Committee considers it necessary for the draft law to focus on the protection of land pipelines, Zhang said.
"But we think the State Council can also issue specific rules to protect offshore pipelines," he said.
Insiders said the State Council Legislative Affairs Office, together with the National Energy Bureau and State Oceanic Administration, is already busy drafting a regulation to protect offshore oil and gas pipelines.
According to this year's legislative agenda issued by the State Council in March, the regulation is among the 116 draft rules that need to be stepped up.
The new regulation and stipulations in the draft law indicate that authorities are drawing lessons from the BP oil spill and considering protective measures for offshore natural resources, analysts said.
China must also improve standards in building and operating pipelines at sea, in line with the accelerated growth in the offshore oil and gas sectors, they said.
The country built its first series of offshore oil and gas pipelines in the early 1980s, when it began to develop oil and gas fields at sea. A number of pipelines have been operating for more than two decades, said Chen Weidong, chief energy researcher with the energy research institute affiliated to China National Offshore Oil Corp.
Higher standards for pipelines are needed to ensure safe production and to keep pace with the rapid development of the offshore oil and gas sectors, he said.
The country needs to "make continuous efforts to improve standards in design, safety and environmental impact", he said.
More detailed measures on offshore oil and gas pipelines show that the government is paying more attention to the safety of offshore resources, said Lin Boqiang, professor at Xiamen University.