20110920 conocophillips oil china4
Scallop farmer Lan Guoping holds the shells of baby scallops which he says perished because of the Conoco-Phillips oil spill this summer. The shells cover his backyard on the edge of the Bohai Sea in Hebei Province. - 

Steve Chiotakis: Engineers say tar balls turning up
on Alabama beaches after Tropical Storm Lee have the same chemical composition as samples taken shortly after the BP oil spill. That's from an Auburn University study out this week.

Meanwhile, over in China, the government there has its eyes on another oil company -- Conoco-Phillips -- after two big oil spills off the
northern Chinese coast.

Marketplace China Bureau Chief Rob Schmitz reports.


Rob Schmitz: Lan Guoping picked the wrong year to start farming scallops. After growing corn for most of his life, the old man's friends convinced him he should spend his savings on rafts, buoys and nets. Now all of that sits in his backyard on top of thousands of pink scallop shells.

Lan Guoping: A few days after I noticed the oil in the water, nearly all of my scallops died. The rest of this year is hopeless.

Lan's one of many here along China's Bohai Sea who are suing Conoco-Phillips for the oil spill. He estimates he's lost $50,000 -- his entire savings.

Lan: China welcomed these foreign companies to drill for oil as long as they don't harm the environment, but they took that for granted.

It took two months for Conoco-Phillips to apologize for the spill and to establish a fund to help those damaged by it. And that's why the company's been on the front page of China's state-run newspapers for weeks. It's been accused of poor ethics, negligence and cover-ups.

But last year in this region, a Chinese company spilled around a hundred times the amount of oil. The Chinese response? The government blocked its own media from covering that spill.

Patrick Chovanec: Foreign companies present the line of least resistance.

Tsinghua University business professor Patrick Chovanec says Chinese journalists commonly get in trouble for going after Chinese companies.

Chovanec: What is possible in China's domestic media has been expanding. Things that simply never would have been covered, now there are people willing to cover it. But I do think that covering foreign companies, it's easier because it just presents less conflicts.

This summer, several Chinese journalists defied government orders and criticized the government over a high-speed train crash that killed dozens of people. A few weeks later though, CCTV -- China's largest state-run television network -- fired one of its top producers for coverage of the crash. The state press has avoided negative coverage of the train crash ever since.

Reporting from Hebei, China, I'm Rob Schmitz for Marketplace.


Chiotakis: Later today on Marketplace, Rob looks at computer giant Apple in the Chinese environmental spotlight.

Follow Rob Schmitz at @rob_schmitz