China expands its fracking program
As the world's oil resources continue to dwindle, or be affected by the sometimes severe fluctuations provoked by the volatile political situations in the oil-producing regions, more and more countries are being drawn to natural shale gas exploration. China is currently one of the world's leading authorities on the technology required to source shale gas.
Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking' as it has been termed colloquially, has been labelled with certain scaremongering stories. The process involves drilling down into shale rock and creating explosions which shatter the solid sedimentary seams in order to release the trapped natural gas. Afterwards, water, sand and other chemicals are injected into the fissure at high pressure, allowing the prized shale gas to flow from the well head. This is actually straightforward, compared to many of the potentially hazardous techniques having to be applied to extract fossil fuel from ocean beds.
As recently as a decade ago, the production of shale gas accounted for a very small percentage of any country's investment into drilling for gas. That has changed, with China becoming the world's leading power in this type of natural gas production. In fact, according to estimates, over the next two decades shale gas will account for a huge percentage of China's energy requirements. As China contains the planet's richest reserves, the production of shale gas is regarded as a potentially rewarding aspect of the country's resources extraction.
Of the many benefits to the Chinese economy, the fact that this type of natural gas is stored in such extensive pockets under China is one of the key incentives for the energy devoted to perfecting the fracking process. With a strong natural gas industry of its own, China will be less susceptible to the ebbing and flowing of the fossil fuel prices dictated by Russia or the Gulf states.
Geologists have estimated the recoverable reserves lying beneath Chinese soil could be as high as 25 trillion cubic meters. The fracking of this fuel is of particular interest to Chinese engineers because it is such a viable alternative to the burning of coal, which currently accounts for around 70% of the nation's combustible energy. Since shale gas can generate electricity at 50% less greenhouse gas emissions than coal burning, this will be one way for China to considerably reduce its carbon footprint.