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Energy hungry China seeks shale gas supremacy

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 14th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

China, the fastest growing industrial nation in the world, is desperate for cheap energy. Seeking to emulate the U.S. shale gas boom that has brought turbulence to North American markets, China is striving to reach a target of producing 6.5 billion cubic meters per year by 2015, and up to 100 billion cubic meters by 2020.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Experts say that these figures are a bit too ambitious given that China's nascent industry currently produces small volumes and faces a daunting list of challenges.

"This is not going to be as easy as everybody thought three years ago," founder and chief executive of Breitling Oil and Gas Chris Faulkner says. "I think it's starting to sink in that this is a huge challenge for China."

Faulkner's Texas company has helped Two of China's largest state-owned oil and gas companies, CNOOC and Sinopec, have been assisted by Faulkner's Texas company to conduct seismic surveys for shale gas.

Extracting shale gas was made possible by the introduction of hydraulic fracturing, better known as "fracking," involves the injection of large volumes of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into the ground in order to shatter rock formations and release trapped gas.

"This was a technology that had been under development for some time. But in the last few years in the U.S., you've really seen large-scale commercial development," Alvin Lin, China climate and energy policy director at the U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council in Beijing says.

However -- the vast quantities of water needed for fracking is a major problem in China, given the country's current water scarcity. Two-thirds of all Chinese cities suffer water shortages. China contains only 2,100 cubic meters of renewable water resources per person, or about 28 percent of the global average. In contrast, the U.S. has 17,000 cubic meters per person.

As such, fracking would strain already-stretched water supplies in China. And the possibility of controversial fracking fluids contaminating supplies is a worrying risk in a country where 300 million people lack access to clean drinking water.

"[Officials] are aware of the reception that fracking has had in the U.S. in terms of environmental and health concerns. It is certainly on the radar, and I think it will be perhaps one of the largest barriers to developing shale gas on a large scale in China," Lin says.

Faulkner says that drilling shale well in the U.S. usually consumes eight to 10 million gallons of water. In China, that rises to 10 to 13 million gallons because of the country's shale geology.

Fracturing these Chinese deposits is tough, which have a high kerogen and clay content. Faulkner likens the task to "taking a fresh box of play dough and trying to frack it."

China's most promising shale-bearing basins lie in Sichuan province and in the remote Xinjiang region in the far west. Chinese companies have favored Sichuan as it is already a major gas production base and has pipelines in place to pump gas to markets.

The shale there is "deep and located in mountainous terrain, so therefore difficult to get out", Barnes says.

"There're very few land-based rigs that can drill that deep, that far. And that equipment does not exist in China."

In addition, fracking has been linked to small earthquakes in Canada, the U.S. and the UK. That may present a risk in Sichuan, which was devastated by a quake in 2008.

Experts assure others that the seismic danger can be mitigated.

"I don't believe fracking causes earthquakes unless you frack over a fault. You don't want to be out there fracking anything unless you understand the geologies. They need to understand the geologies to see if there're any faults," Faulkner says.

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