Burning Tap Water Goes Viral in China After Natural Gas Seepage

Officials in northeastern China suspended a neighborhood's supply of drinking water on Sunday, hours after a viral video showed tap water being set on fire by a lighter.

Residents of Dawa District in the city of Panjin, Liaoning Province, said they had been living with the phenomenon since at least 2018, while one resident said her household had gaseous and "oily" running water for "three to four years," Chinese media reports said.

Identified by her last name Wen, the resident said the highly flammable water streaming from her family's faucets went unresolved until a video she posted to social media was picked up by major news outlets like state broadcaster CCTV and Chinese Communist Party newspaper People's Daily.

The clip, which shows her father igniting water flowing out of their bathroom tap, spawned a hashtag which has been read more than 250 million times on China's Twitter-like service Weibo.

"Compared to regular tap water, our water always seems more oily," Wen told CCTV. Her father complained to the local water supply station this summer, but the service provider could not address the problem and instead offered the family a 100 renminbi ($15) utility bill discount, she added.

"My mother had concerns about our health because the water was gaseous but odorless," Wen said, claiming they first noticed the flammable water "three to four years" ago.

According to the CCTV report, residents in the area were not surprised by the revelation. At least one homeowner reported accidentally igniting water coming from his kitchen faucet while using his gas stove.

Municipal officials suspended the neighborhood's water supply a few hours after the reports surfaced, before releasing the results of a preliminary investigation Tuesday.

The phenomenon—reportedly affecting more than 100 households—was caused by natural gas seepage into the potable water supply, which is pumped from groundwater 4,500 feet below, the Dawa District Publicity Department said.

Despite residents' claims that the phenomenon had been ongoing for several years, the local government said the flammable tap water appeared following recent improvements to a groundwater storage device.

Local residents have been supplied with alternate water sources while remedial work continues, the publicity office said, adding that it was still trying to determine liability for the mistake.

The city of Panjin is known for its natural gas reservoirs. Last November, Liaohe Oilfield of the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation announced the construction of an $8.5 billion gas storage facility—the largest of its kind in the region.

burning tap
A resident in Panjin, Liaoning, China, ignites water flowing from his bathroom tap on November 22, 2020. A local government investigation linked the flammable water to an accidental natural gas leak into the potable supply. Weibo