China frequently charts its own course in the South China Sea, disregarding the desires and territorial claims of its neighbors, but this expedition, part of the 2013-2023 International Ocean Discovery Programme, whose mission is to search for oil and gas in the South China Sea in waters claimed by a number of countries, represents a welcome change of pace for Beijing.The IODP program is international and cooperative, with scientists from ten different countries on board a ship for 62 days (13 of the scientists are from China, one is from Taiwan, and nine are from the United States). The expedition will explore for oil and natural gas at a greater depth under the seafloor than ever before. The Chinese government is paying 70 percent of the costs of the expedition.Just how much oil and gas lies under the seafloor in the South China Sea is the subject of much debate. China’s National Offshore Oil Company guessed that the area has 125 billion barrels of oil and 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The U.S. Geological Survey says the figure is much lower: between five and 22 billion barrels of oil and between 70 and 290 trillion cubic feet of gas. How much of that can be feasibly extracted is up for debate as well. Like most offshore oil projects, the South China Sea would make for difficult operations even without the territorial disputes.This expedition should go a ways toward answering questions about what kinds of natural resources and business opportunities are really at stake in the South China Sea dispute. At the moment everyone is fighting over a few rocks that jut a few feet about sea level, the abundant schools of fish that swim in the waters around them, and the strategic nature of the Sea itself. Soon we will also know if there is oil and gas worth fighting over as well.
what lies beneathChina Leads First Oil & Gas Exploration in South China Sea in Years