Thursday, August 29, 2013

China is the whale of shale

As I was reading Richard Heinberg's "Snake Oil" the following jumped off the page: "shale gas resources in China exceed even those of the United States".

An article from Caixin Online reproduced on MarketWatch agrees:

"A 2011 report by the U.S. Energy Information Agency estimated total world shale gas reserves that are exploitable using today’s technology at 189 trillion cubic meters. Of that, 36.1 trillion cubic meters are in China, making it the world leader in shale gas reserves.

"In 2011, the MLR launched an investigation into potential shale gas reserves. The results indicated China had 25 trillion cubic meters of developable reserves, slightly more than the United States’ 24 trillion."
Heinberg distinguishes between "resources" (what is there) and "reserves" (what can be physically and profitably recovered). There are sharp differences of opinion about the latter - the US EIA estimated last year that there were 482 trillion cubic feet (=13.65 trillion cu. m.) of "technically recoverable" gas in the United States. Not 24 trillion, then - but the economics may change as demand increases and stocks are used up.
Still, China has a massive amount to exploit and this is on top of having the world's third-largest proven recoverable reserves of coal.

Per capita, China's coal and gas are much less than America's, since the former's population is four times larger. Nevertheless, she is motivated  to develop these resources, given the high cost of global energy prices compared to her domestic wage rates, and her desire for greater energy security. China is also more likely to be able to exploit these resources quickly, given relatively less stringent environmental protection. Further, I understand from other reading that the way the carbon trading market has been set up makes it easier for China to get credits for reducing pollution from energy plants, since she starts from a lower basis than is expected from already-more-efficient Western nations; and she will quickly acquire the knowhow, one way or another.

Another point Heinberg makes is that energy-exporting nations begin to use more themselves as their economies become wealthier, so that if global energy reserves fail to increase in line with global demand, the USA and UK (and others) are likely to suffer supply problems and rising costs. As the ancient Greek saying goes, "There is no borrowing a sword in time of war."

By the way, I shouldn't be surprised to learn sometime in the future about regional unrest in China as well-connected cliques seize or swindle mineral rights from villagers, just as they have grabbed land for the crazy speculative residential and leisure developments of the past few years.

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