A 4,000-kilometer-plus natural gas project linking Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Shanghai began commercial operations on Thursday. It will help quench demand for clean fuel in the energy-thirsty Yangtze River Delta.
The pipeline will supply gas to Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces as well as Shanghai.
"PetroChina has already signed an agreement with 40 users so far. The project will break even this year and is expected to make a profit next year," reported Xinhua news agency, citing Su Shulin, vice general manager of China National Petroleum Corp, the parent company of PetroChina.
PetroChina, the country's biggest oil firm, is the main sponsor of the project, which has a designed annual transmission capacity of 12 billion cubic meters.
PetroChina will endeavor to boost the project's annual capacity to 18 billion cubic meters in 2006 by setting up 10 gas-compressing stations along the line.
Industrialists are hoping to recover their investment and start to reap profits next year, although not all experts agree that this is likely.
Currently, natural gas accounts for less than 3 percent of the country's total energy consumption, according to Xinhua.
But there is a growing appetite for clean fuel, and demand for natural gas is expected to reach 100 billion cubic meters in 2010. This figure is forecast to double by 2020.
The same day, President Hu Jintao sent a message to a ceremony in Beijing marking the pipeline's completion.
He expressed gratitude to the construction workers, on behalf of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council.
"The completion of the cross-provinces gas project symbolizes, once again, that China's socialist system boasts the advantage of being able to concentrate resources in carrying out big projects," he said.
(Shanghai Daily, China Daily December 31, 2004)