BEIJING — One of China's most influential newspapers on Monday accused the US oil giant behind a huge spill off the country's east coast of trying to cover up the disaster.
The strongly-worded article in the People's Daily -- the mouthpiece of the Communist Party -- said ConocoPhillips had displayed "indifference" to the damage to the environment and issued misleading statements over the spill.
On Friday, the marine watchdog ordered the company to halt operations at its Penglai 19-3 oilfield, China's biggest and the source of the leak into Bohai Bay that has caused public anger.
ConocoPhillips, which says the equivalent of 3,200 barrels have leaked into the sea, said Sunday it was working to halt its operations at the field in a "safe and timely manner and in a way that preserves the field's operating integrity."
A statement on ConocoPhillips China's website said it was working to complete the shutdown by Monday, but a company spokesman contacted by telephone early Monday was not immediately able to confirm whether this had been done.
The People's Daily said the company had put efforts to protect public image above safeguarding the environment in the months since the spill was made public in early June.
"There is a sharp contrast between the company's sensitivity regarding its image and its indifference to the pollution of the marine environment," said the column, by People's Daily commentator Jiang Hongbing.
"After repeated delays and a series of cover ups and deceptions, the production at the Penglai 19-3 oil field of ConocoPhilips has finally been ordered to stop."
A spokesman for ConocoPhillips said the company, which co-owns the Penglai 19-3 oilfield with the state-owned oil company China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), said: "We reported the incident to the relevant authorities immediately and as fully as we could."
"We're the operator and we accept full responsibility for what happened in the field," John Roper told AFP by telephone.
Shares of CNOOC fell 8.6 percent in early Hong Kong trade on Monday as traders assessed the affect of the production closure on oil supplies to feed China's increasing demand for petroleum for energy.
On Sunday, CNOOC said the suspension of production at the oilfield would reduce its output by about 40,000 barrels a day.
Operations of two platforms at the oilfield have already been halted since July 13 on government orders, resulting in a cut of 22,000 barrels a day, CNOOC said.