China’s efforts to play on its geological advantage to lessen its dependence on fuel imports will be hampered by limited expertise and water supply.
Shale gas will not free China from Middle East oil imports, an investment vehicle of the Kuwaiti government said.
The world’s top fuel consumer is home to what is believed to be the world’s richest reserves of shale gas – 19 per cent of the global total, compared to the United States’ 13 per cent. But China’s efforts to play on its geological advantage to lessen its dependence on fuel imports will be hampered by limited expertise and water supply, one of the key ingredients of the mixture of sand and chemicals pumped into the ground to fracture shale formations.
“Shale gas will not play a substantial role in the Chinese energy mix,” wrote Francisco Quintana, a senior economist at Asiya Investments, a marketing and advisory firm owned by Kuwait China Investment Company. “Technical issues like lack of water, depth of the gas deposits, proximity to urban areas and lack of technological skills make exploitation extremely expensive.”
Kuwait China Investment is part-owned by the Kuwait Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund, as well as National Investments Company and Alghanim Industries.
Kuwait joins other Arabian Gulf countries – gas-rich Qatar in particular – that have cast doubt on the future of fracking in the world’s oil demand growth hub.
Beijing has high hopes for shale. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), China holds 1,115 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas reserves, dwarfing the US’ 665 trillion. Chinese authorities are targeting production of 100 billion cubic metres by 2020, or 40 per cent of the total production in the US today.
But deeply buried gas, water shortages and a dearth of existing pipeline infrastructure, which make it both difficult to frack and to bring production to market, have prevented immediate results. Last year, China drew less than 1 per cent of its domestic gas production from shale, compared to 39 per cent in the US and 15 per cent in Canada, according to the EIA.
Royal Dutch Shell, which is spending US$1 billion a year on developing Chinese unconventionals including shale gas, has also faced obstructions from local village blockades.
Slow going in shale combined with ever-growing demand mean that China remains dependent on exports from the Arabian Gulf, said Mr Quintana.
“Renewable and nuclear will slightly increase their share, but oil is expected to lose only a small fraction of its weight in the energy mix,” he said. “In absolute terms, Chinese demand is expected to grow faster than that of all other large economies. China will therefore have to rely mostly on imported oil to fuel growth, and most of that growth will have to be served by Middle East oil.”