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Thanks to improved conditions and tidier workplaces, the phrase "getting one"s hands dirty" is becoming a relic of the past for more and more laborers in China.
Li Sijiu, a worker at a petrochemical facility in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, is one such beneficiary of recently installed eco-friendly equipment and technologies.
"Our uniforms used to be stained with crude oil and wax after a day"s work, and sometimes they could even stand up by themselves after being taken off due to their filthy stiffened conditions," Li said, adding that things are much better now.
Li works at the Zhundong oilfield in the Junggar Basin, which since 2015 has been developing a range of industrial equipment to help mitigate the impact of oil drilling and processing on the surrounding environment.
"We have reduced the emissions of pollutants during oil exploitation by over 90 percent through new technologies for the disposal of oil sludge and automation of worker operations," said Xie Jianyong, deputy head of the plant.
Since 2016, the plant has invested more than 10 million yuan ($1.56 million) in developing automated operations and other technologies, he added.
The Zhundong facility has applied for more than 33 patents and established three operational standards in the category of eco-friendly technologies.
The site aims to achieve zero pollution and cut energy consumption by one-third within five years, Xie said.
In the Northwest oilfield near the boundary of the Taklimakan Desert, where the environment is extremely fragile, oil sludge - one of the major toxic by-products encountered during drilling - has been transformed into uncontaminated soil that can be used to pave roads, thanks to a series of eco-friendly technologies.
"Pollutants containing cadmium and other hazardous heavy metals unearthed during oil exploitation can severely contaminate the soil if not dealt with properly," said Gu Minhe, deputy head of the oilfield"s environmental protection department.
The oil content of the sludge can be reduced to 2 percent using eco-friendly disposal technologies, which help save 45 million yuan in pollutant control costs every year, he added.
PetroChina Tarim Oilfield Co has invested 218 million yuan since 2008 to construct a 436-kilometer tree-lined windbreak along a desert road in the Tarim Basin to help contain desertification. The company also planted over 1,300 hectares of forested areas in the oilfield.
Since 2017, the Zhundong plant decommissioned 284 oil wells in the Kalamaili Nature Reserve - home to various endangered species including Przewalski"s horse. The plant plans to dismantle the wells and restore the environment by the end of this year.
"Though the efforts to protect the environment will cost the plant more than 1 billion yuan, we must take the responsibility for the whole of society as a State-owned enterprise," said Wang Ning, Party secretary of the plant.