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Shale May Be China's Best Hope for Clear Skies


Here’s a sentence that will make a green’s head spin: China needs to frack in order to clear its smoggy skies.

That’s because burning coal is one of the biggest drivers of Chinese air pollution. As the Northern hemisphere bundles up for winter, Chinese urbanites are stocking up on face masks as more coal plants come online to help power heating. But burning natural gas doesn’t release the kind of soot that’s hovering over China’s megacities, and as an added benefit emits just half the greenhouse gases as coal.

Replacing coal with natural gas will go a long way towards blue skies over Beijing, but as Reuters reports, gas is in short supply:

“With the current natural gas situation, maybe you can guarantee (supply to) big cities like Beijing, but if you want to expand to the cities of northern China that need it … I think that’s still quite difficult,” said Tao Guangyuan, a renewable energy expert and columnist based in Beijing.

The shortage has forced the government to ration gas supplies, even banning construction of new natural gas-fired power stations. The government also said last week it would control the increase in new gas users, prioritizing supplies to residential users and public transport during the winter.

Which is why developing the country’s shale gas reserves, the largest in the world, may be the greenest step the country can take right now. China’s shale efforts have been stymied so far by complex geology, water scarcity, and a lack of technical experience, but it is so far the only country outside of North America to even approach commercial production.

China’s latest Five Year Plan set aggressive targets for shale gas production that will require drilling more than 1,200 wells, but so far, just 60 exploratory wells have been drilled. For the sake of its citizens lungs, China needs to drill, baby, drill.

[Man wearing a mask in Beijing image courtesy of Getty]

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  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    The Chinese Government’s ownership of all land and minerals, means that entrepreneurs and the windfall profits they would kill for, are unavailable. So, shale gas development will proceed at the speed of Government (and no one really knows how slow that is).

  • lfstevens

    The Economist talks bout fracking in China, saying that the problem is the massive water shortage that the country already faces. Fracking takes a lot of water and they just don’t have it.

    “China is hoping to follow America into a shale-gas revolution. But each shale-gas well needs 15,000 tonnes of water a year to run. China is also planning to build around 450 new coal-fired power stations, burning 1.2 billion tonnes of coal a year. The stations have to be cooled by water and the coal has to be washed. The grand total is 9 billion tonnes of water. China does not have that much available. According to the World Resources Institute, a think-tank in Washington, DC, half the new coal-fired plants are to be built in areas of high or extremely high water stress.”

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