BEIJING (Reuters) - China has uncovered nearly 20,000 disaster risks in its oil and gas sector during a nationwide safety probe following a pipeline blast that killed 62 people last year, the country's safety watchdog said on Thursday.
Checks on some 3,000 petrochemical firms and oil storage sites found nearly 20,000 potential hazards, Wang Haoshui, an inspector with the safety agency, told reporters.
"Oil and gas pipelines are buried underground... It is hard to inspect (them) and find the hidden dangers," said Wang, adding that the agency had already urged the parties involved to fix the problems.
China has 655 trunk oil and gas pipelines with a total length of 102,000 km. Some of them have been operating for as long as 40 years, making them vulnerable to corrosion, Huang Yi, a spokesman for the State Administration of Work Safety, told a news briefing.
"What worried us is that some oil pipelines overlap with urban infrastructure pipes, causing many hidden dangers."
The government launched the probe in December.
The November explosion at the Dongying-Huangdao II pipeline owned by top Asian refiner China Petroleum & Chemical Corp (Sinopec) was attributed to pipeline corrosion, irregular work practices and a tangled network of underground pipes, Huang said.
The blast in the eastern city of Qingdao that killed 62 people resulted from pipeline corrosion that led to a leak, which was ignited in turn by sparks from a hydraulic hammer used on the day of the accident, he said.
The probe team has submitted its findings to China's cabinet, the State Council, and the results will be released to the public after they have been approved, he added.
Industry officials expected stiff punishment for Sinopec over the blast, which also injured 136 and caused direct economic loss of 750 million yuan ($123.9 million).
However, Huang said responsibility lay not only with Sinopec, but also local governments, regulators and urban planners. ($1=6.051 Chinese Yuan)
(Reporting by Judy Hua and David Stanway; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)