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New Chinese gas estimate remixes global energy song

Eve Troeh Mar 2, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: The energy industry got its hands on a hot new number today — a fresh estimate of China’s natural gas resources. Beijing says it has about 50 percent more natural gas than the United States does, all of it sitting there waiting to be tapped. Most of it’s is trapped in rock out in western China. Getting it out will could change energy use in the world’s second biggest economy.

From the Marketplace Sustainability desk, Eve Troeh has the story.

Eve Troeh: Forget all the tea in China, the world’s been waiting years to hear about all the natural gas. And now the Chinese government’s put a number on it: 25 trillion cubic meters. Suffice to say, that’s a lot. Maybe enough to power China for 200 years.

Sam Jaffe with IDC Energy Insights says it’s nice to have that on paper.

Sam Jaffe: People were worried that it was all smoke and mirrors. We now have more confidence that it’s not. However, it’s still a ballpark number.

Because getting the gas out of the rock takes advanced technology. Namely hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Before you start drilling it’s hard to know exactly how much gas you can get to. But, unlike U.S. producers, China won’t face much regulatory pressure or public backlash.

Jaffe: You can’t have a “not in my backyard” approach to things when the government owns all the backyards.

China wants to burn all that gas itself. Right now it pays to import most of its energy. But it’ll take years to change that, says Geoff Styles at GSW Strategy.

Geoff Styles: Even if they were able to produce in very significant quantities today, they don’t yet have the infrastructure to use it.

China doesn’t have much in the way of gas pipelines or refineries. It runs mostly on coal. And not just power plants. In rural areas, many Chinese burn coal directly for heat or cooking.

Michael Zenker at Barclay’s Capital says China’s natural gas boom isn’t just about learning to frack. It’s…

Michael Zenker: How quickly they can add customers to the grid.

Looking at past Chinese development efforts, that answer’s probably: more quickly than you think.

I’m Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

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