Illegal oil refineries produce high-risk fuel, dump acid sludge to make toxic lakes

Updated 2017-01-18 09:24:00 Global Times/Agencies
A man looks at the acid lake discovered between Jiaocheng and Wenshui counties in North China's Shanxi Province.

A man looks at the acid lake discovered between Jiaocheng and Wenshui counties in North China's Shanxi Province.

A recent drug crackdown exposed evidence that many illegal oil refineries still operate in China. These refineries sell home-processed diesel and oil to trucks and create safety hazards. Furthermore, leftover acid from the production process is illegally dumped, creating serious environmental issues

Has it ever occurred to you that drug dealers might have a role to play in the fuel firing Chinese trucking?

Anti-drug brigades in North China's Shanxi Province found evidence of such a link in a recent workshop bust.

At the end of November 2016, drug enforcement officers from Lüliang's Jiaocheng and Wenshui counties jointly cracked a narcotics trading and producing case. To their surprise, the dealers were selling some of the concentrated sulfuric acid they use to make methamphetamines to an illegal oil refinery in Jiaocheng.

Using concentrated sulfuric acid to "wash" highly impure waste engine oil to produce diesel is a traditional refining method. It has been used by China's oil industry on a large scale for more than a decade, bringing irreversible damage to the environment. After the oil refining process, highly acidic waste products are often dumped into valleys, thrown into creeks or buried in pits.

This method is banned by government. According to a 2011 Ministry of Environmental Protection regulation, using sulfuric acid to reprocess diesel is prohibited due to the large quantities of acidic sludge produced.

While the authorities have taken measures to crack down on this practice, illegal oil refineries are still ubiquitous in Shanxi, especially since international oil prices have started climbing.

A prevalent phenomenon

In Jiaocheng, several deserted furnaces and oil refining machines were found in farmland by reporters from the Beijing-based Economic Information Daily. There isn't even a single blade of grass growing in the area and a pungent odor fills the air.

In two nearby yards, several oil tanker trucks and more oil refining machines were found.

A local resident said that as the authorities have become more vigilant recently, the secret oil refining workshops have temporarily suspended operations.

In 2016, Jiaocheng shut down 20 illegal oil refineries and arrested 24 people.

According to an insider, their substandard diesel was sold to illegal local gas stations, many of which are based in residential communities and mainly sell to truck drivers seeking cheap fuel.

In a noodle restaurant in Xiajiaying township, advertisements on the wall offer diesel and pure engine oil. The ads say diesel can be bought at 2.8 yuan (.4) a liter. On the Beijing market, diesel costs over 6 yuan a liter.

An investigation in the city of Yuncheng found that there are many illegal gas stations along the stretch of the national highway that passes through the area, and some of which are based in apartment buildings. There are also unauthorized refitted oil trucks on the road which refuel passersby.

In one two-kilometer segment of national highway 209, there are five illegal gas stations frequented by coal-carrying trucks.

In the backyard of one restaurant sit a tanker and giant storage tanks; in a brick house near a convenience store, a long pipe reaches out and the oil nozzle sits in a truck's fuel tank.

"The oil is clean diesel from Shandong Province, costing more than 3 yuan per liter, which is 1 yuan cheaper than diesel sold on the market. We've been running this business for many years and many customers keep coming back," owner of an oil station said.

An insider with the Yuncheng privately owned gas stations' association revealed that in Fancun township alone, there are seven illegal gas stations. The diesel they sell is made from waste oil and coal tar that was reprocessed using concentrated sulfuric acid.

Economic Information Daily reporters' investigations show that there are at least 700 illegal gas stations in Shanxi.

Hiding gas stations in housing compounds can bring deadly risks. According to news portal, a gas station which was hidden in a private Shanxi yard for six years exploded in July 2015, seriously injuring two people.

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