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ConocoPhillips lawsuit (re oil spill in China)


Following a 2011 oil spill in the Bohai Sea in China, affected fisherman whose livelihoods were impacted by the spill filed lawsuits against ConocoPhillips in China and the US. While some of the Chinese lawsuits were able to proceed, the US lawsuit was dismissed by the US district court of Southern Texas.

In 2011, a subsidiary of a US based company ConocoPhillips, ConocoPhillips China, caused an oil spill in the Bohai Sea in China, which severely damaged the ecosystem in the Bohai Bay and greatly affected the livelihoods of local fishermen.  In January 2012, ConocoPhillips and its partner, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, reached an agreement with China's Ministry of Agriculture and State Oceanic Administration to settle compensation claims in amount of 1.09 billion yuan in relation to fishery-related losses in Hebei and Liaoning provinces.  However, fishermen from some other areas, allegedly also affected by the spill, were excluded from the compensation scheme.

Litigation in China

Aqua-farmers from the affected areas filed several lawsuits before the Tianjin Maritime Court and the Qingdao Maritime Court.  In 2011, a group of fishermen from Hebei and Liaoning provinces, who did not join the 2012 settlement process, filed a lawsuit in Tianjin court.  In 2015, the court ordered ConocoPhillips to pay them 1.68 million yuan ($265,000).  This group of plaintiffs was the first to have their claim accepted.  The same year, Qingdao court effectively refused to hear a claim brought by Shandong fishermen by neither accepting nor rejecting the lawsuit.  In July 2015, Qingdao Maritime Court accepted a case filing by a Chinese environmental NGO against ConocoPhillips and its partner.  However, the case concerns only the reparation of environmental damage and does not include compensation claims for farmers.  Also in 2015, after Tianjin court initially declined to hear a claim by a group of Tianjin fishermen, five of them refiled a lawsuit, which this time was accepted.  The hearings on the case started in December 2016.  In December 2016, Qingdao maritime court also admitted a lawsuit filed by 205 fishermen from Shandong province claiming a compensation of 170 million yuan ($24.4 million) and asked the parties to submit their evidence. 

- "Court starts hearing lawsuit over U.S. ConocoPhillips oil leakage case", Xu Yaqi, Crienglish, 9 Dec 2016
- [PDF] Plaintiffs v. ConocoPhillips & China National Offshore Oil Corporation, Complaint for civil litigation, Tianjin Maritime Court, 30 Dec 2011


Litigation in the US

On 2 July 2012, a group of 30 fishermen from Shandong province filed a lawsuit against ConocoPhillips in US federal court in Texas, where ConocoPhillips is headquartered.  The plaintiffs claimed that the US lawsuit was their only chance to get justice for the effect of oil spills on their livelihoods due to the Chinese Government blocking access to its own court system.  Some plaintiffs claim they have been warned, threatened and monitored by local governmental officials in Shandong, and intimidated into withdrawing the lawsuit.  On 16 October 2012, a group of 167 fishermen from Hebei province also filed a petition in Texas court to depose executives from ConocoPhillips, claiming that it directly relates to claims they have presented before the Chinese court.  ConocoPhillips argued that US courts do not have jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ claims and that the lawsuit should be dismissed.  The company also claimed that according to the report by Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, fishermen in Shandong had not been affected by the oil spill.  ConocoPhillips argued that if the plaintiffs could prove they had been affected, they could seek compensation through the Ministry of Agriculture.  On 8 November 2016, the US district court of Southern Texas dismissed the civil claim of Shandong fishermen and the petition for deposition by Hebei fishermen.

- "Bohai legacy highlights weakness in China’s marine law", Chinadialogue, 26 June 2018
-"Chinese fishermen sue ConocoPhillips over spills", Associated Press, 2 Jul 2017
- “Shandong fishermen sue ConocoPhillips in US”, China.org.cn, 5 Apr 2013
- “Beijing warns Shandong fishermen against suing ConocoPhillips over Bohai oil spill”, Stephen Chen, South China Morning Post, 3 Apr 2013  

- [PDF] Peiqing Cong, et al. v. ConocoPhillips - Opinion on Dismissal, US District Court for the Southern District of Texas, 8 Nov 2016
- [PDF] Peiqing Cong, et al. v. ConocPhillips - Opinion on Remand & Deposition, US District Court for the Southern District of Texas, 8 Nov 2016
- [PDF] Peiqing Cong, et al. v. ConocoPhillips - ConocoPhillips Company's Reply Brief in Support of its Motion to Dismiss, 11 Jan 2013
- [PDF] Peiqing Cong, et al. v. ConocoPhillips - Complaint for Damages and Injunctive Relief, 2 Jul 2012 [plaintiffs' complaint filed at the US District Court for the Southern District of Houston]

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