Natural gas should play a major role in the future of China's energy industry, speakers at a forum in Beijing have decided.
The meeting, which focused on transport and the use of natural gas in Northeast Asia, attracted around 80 experts, officials and entrepreneurs from home and abroad. Most of the participants said they believed natural gas is a good alternative to heavy polluter coal and expensive oil for which there is a soaring demand.
Energy and the environment are closely related, and the reckless use of energy resources has caused many environmental problems.
The situation is especially serious in developing Asian countries.
Coal burning is believed to produce greenhouse gases, believed to be mainly responsible for global warming.
China suffers a lot from the use of coal, said Charles Constantinou, a veteran petroleum Consultant at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs under the United Nations.
As environmental considerations increase, natural gas - which is more environmentally friendly than coal and even oil - has become the preferred fuel worldwide, the consultant said, but is still far from popular in many developing countries like China. Here, dependence on coal is more pronounced than in industrialized nations, where alternative energy supplies are more readily available.
As economic development leads to higher national and per capita incomes and a consequent increase in energy consumption, China's energy demand is growing by about 3.5 percent a year and is expected to double in 20 years, figures from the State Statistics Bureau indicate.
But coal still accounts for 80 percent of the country's total energy use, compared with 50 percent in the United States.
Smoke and dust from coal burning and exhaust fumes are the two main causes of air pollution in China's large cities.
The recent soaring oil prices have also had a negative impact on China's economy. Being a net oil importer since 1993, China is vulnerable and the situation will not be eased in the coming years because of the growing use of cars.
To safeguard national energy security, China should make developing its natural gas industry the priority of its energy policy.
According to the Administration of Petroleum and Chemical Industries, China's natural gas production will reach 50 billion cubic meters in 2005 compared to 24.2 billion cubic meters in 1999.
China has decided to build a 4,200-kilometer pipeline to carry natural gas recently discovered in Tarim of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The line will pass through eight provinces, regions and municipalities to reach Shanghai.
China has also signed an agreement with Russia and South Korea to develop rich natural gas reserves in Siberia.
China's natural gas exploration is still at the primary stage. The growth of output and consumption is slow and pipeline networks are underdeveloped.
Most of the gas in China is currently used in the countryside to produce chemical fertilizer. China needs to expand its use in residential and power generating sectors to boost consumption.
Found mainly in the northwest, natural gas sources in China are a long way from potential markets in prosperous coastal areas, and it is difficult to build a large-scale transport system. The high costs of this transport will hamper the consumption market, and although one solution is to raise prices, more consideration must be given to consumers, the meeting agreed.
(China Daily 12/09/2000)