Planet China

Gas panic

On roads around the city of Dongying old ladies are frequently seen towing six foot long balloons filled with natural gas (see photo below). It goes without saying that this is extremely dangerous: a single spark, or contact with a cigarette, and the balloons could blow up, likely killing the dama (as old retired ladies in China are known) and those nearby. Still, the practice goes on because of the proximity to the country’s second biggest oilfield, Shengli – and the access it offers local residents to bag free natural gas (small amounts of which are produced at the oilfield, though not enough to make production commercially viable, meaning the oil company is happy to let householders have it). Shandong TV last week interviewed one local dama with a gas balloon in tow. She told the reporter that everyone in the surrounding villages bikes home their fuel in a similar fashion. Asked if she thought it was dangerous, she replied “Of course it is!”. However, as Shandong TV concluded: “because the gas is free, many residents opt to ignore the danger. Meanwhile worried passers-by compare it to carrying a bomb on their backs”.

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