Jobs, food and water issues among 100M neighbors
Sichuan Basin, where PetroChina fracked its first well, is among the most heavily populated regions in the country. Nearly 100 million people live in Sichuan province and its neighboring megacity, Chongqing. The basin stretches into southern Yunnan and eastern Hubei provinces, and the Yangtze River drains into tributaries through the region, nourishing the land.
Industrial development is rapidly encroaching on the countryside where PetroChina is exploring for gas. Bringing factories, steel mills and decent-paying service jobs to areas closer to home for millions of migrant workers is part of China's "economic rebalancing."
As the convoy of American and Chinese oil industry officials pressed ahead along crowded two-lane roads last month, smoke belched from a steel plant cut into the leafy hills. An unfinished bridge stretched across a valley. A makeshift coal mine appeared, and a few miles up, a truck hauling a full bed of dirt had run off the road, tipping toward a ravine.
Farms are tucked ever more tightly into the landscape. China's staples are produced here -- one-tenth of its pork, and the grains and oils needed to feed 1.3 billion people. Water is abundant, but unevenly distributed across the region.
"Just pick up China's five-year plan and there are water issues all over it," said Guy Lewis, a managing director at the Gas Technology Institute, based outside of Chicago. "The way it plays out in China might be based on their choices of technology."
PetroChina plans to build at least 200 wells in this corner of the basin by 2015. It will create jobs. It will also squeeze the landscape and the people living there.
Few roads and pipelines are built to haul massive amounts of water, sand and drilling sludge in and out. Few rules exist for disposal of wastewater or use of local streams. To drill in this area's urbanizing countryside, alongside working farms, multiple wells will have to be built on a single drilling pad, according to industry sources, and water recycling will have to be the norm.
Ming Sung, the Beijing-based chief Asia-Pacific representative for the Clean Air Task Force, said in an interview that prime agricultural land and shale gas development can coexist.
"We have sufficient technology to ensure they coexist, but they have to do it right," said Sung, a chemical engineer who worked for Shell for 25 years.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500.