If the Great Wall that runs from east to west, winding up high mountains and lofty hills and the plateau desert is said to resemble a flying dragon, then, the west-to-east gas pipeline, that leads from west to east, runs through deserts, crosses Taihang Mountains and gets across the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, meandering 8,000 li (4,000 km) and brings benefits to hundreds of millions of people, is a magic hidden dragon.
This 4,000-km-long main energy artery that runs through the heartland of China starts west from Lunnan of the Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture of Beyinguoleng in Xinjiang, via Gansu and Ningxia into Shaanxi and, in Jingbian of Shaanxi, connects with the Changqing Gas-field and then gets across the Yellow River through Shanxi, Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces to reach Shanghai in the east, pipelining the rich reserves of natural gas in the Tarim Basin unceasingly to China's economically most developed southeast coastal regions.
The west-to-east gas pipelining project is the largest scheme started up in the beginning of the new century in China: investment of 27.3 billion yuan has been made for the prospecting and development of the upstream gas-field and 43.5 billion yuan for pipeline construction, investment of 68.8 billion yuan has been channeled to the downstream gas-using project as well as to the construction of urban pipe network, the scale of investment is in no way inferior to that of the Three Gorges Project, it will play a tremendous role in boosting the development of the western region. For this reason, after the Party Central Committee and the State Council formally announced the start of the west-to-east gas-pipelining project in March 2000, Premier Zhu Rongji called it as "the curtain has been raised for the large-scale development of the western region". More than two years have passed, after the overture has been sounded, what magnificent drama will be staged?
A Best "Win Win" Choice for the East and West
People compare the west-to-east gas pipelining project to a golden bridge featuring "win-win" for the east and west, erected between the western region with superior resources and the vast market of the eastern region. Indeed, the west-to-east gas pipelining project converts the resources advantage of the western region into real economic benefits, the western region is the greatest beneficiary.
Input into the development of Xinjiang's gas-fields can bring Xinjiang an additional financial revenue of over 1 billion yuan, the areas along the western region outside Xinjiang will also receive no small benefits. The 4,000-km-long west-to-east gas pipelining project involves an investment of 43.5 billion yuan, 67 percent of which will be used in the construction of the western region.
So, this project playing a major stimulating role is regarded as a very rare opportunity by the western region and an indicative project marking the large-scale development of the western region.
The destination of this project is the richest Yangtze River Delta. The eastern region is poor in resources. This region relies on 85 percent of resources transferred in from other regions. A survey shows that in the coming decade the demand for natural gas here will increase from this year's over 2 billion cubic meters to over 20 billion cubic meters by a colossal 10 fold by the year 2010!This represents a vast market space for the development of China's natural gas industry.
After this project is put into use, a planned annual volume of over 2 billion cubic meters will be carried down along the line to supply the Yangtze Delta for its 10 billion cubic meter plan, this 12 billion cubic meters of natural gas mean a substitute of 9-million-ton standard coal and the reduction in the discharge of 270,000 tons of smoke dust.
For this, Minister of the State Development Planning Commission Zeng Peiyan points out this is a project of important strategic significance. It will bring benefits not only to various ethnic groups of Xinjiang, and to people in various provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities along the line, but will also help improve China's energy composition and reduce atmospheric pollution, so it is a most realistic choice for China's sustainable development.
"The west-to-east gas pipelining also represents a major strategic move in structural readjustment of China's energy industry", said Ma Fucai, general manager of the China National Petroleum Group Company. China's net import of oil came to 60 million tons last year, domestic petroleum output has failed to meet the demand for national economic development, China's natural gas resources output has exceeded 38,000 billion cubic meters, the prospect for large-scale development is promising, making it possible "to supplement oil with gas". Currently, the proportion of natural gas in China's primary energy structure is very low, less than 3 percent, whereas the world's average level has reached 23 percent.
Ma Fucai pointed out that in order to improve the energy structure and the human living environment, many countries have gone through the process of fine-quality energy conversion from coal-petroleum-natural gas. The west-to-east gas pipelining project will help accelerate the realization of this change. . He indicated that he would seize this opportunity to quicken pace of the optimization of China's energy industrial structure and the upgrading of industry, striving to raise the proportion of natural gas in China's energy consumption structure to about 8 percent in about 10 years' time.
Keep the Resources Market under Control
Unless one has been to Xinjiang, one will not know the size of China. Xinjiang covers one/fifth area of the vast expanse of China, an area abounds in natural gas resources. The Tarim Basin lying between Tianshan and Kunlun Mountains has a volume of natural gas resources reaching 8390 billion cubic meters, representing 28 percent of the country's terrestrial natural gas resources volume. The "main force" of this project is the Tarim Basin.
If the key to the success or failure of the project is resource, then, the core is the market. When the feasibility studies report was made two years ago, what was most questioned was the market question, nowadays, this biggest question mark has been straightened out. Currently, the China National Petroleum Corporation has signed a letter of intent on buying and selling as well as on pipelining with 45 gas-using enterprises in four provinces-Henan, Anhui, Zhejiang and Jiangsu and one municipality of Shanghai. The planned volume of gas use is 12 billion cubic meters in 2005 and 16.6 billion cubic meters in 2007. General Manager Huang Weihe with the West-to-East Gas Pipelining Sub-branch of China National Petroleum and Natural Gas Co. Ltd. disclosed to us, it has been planned that after the conclusion of the first-phased project, 10 compressor stations will be added to the second-phased project, so as to enlarge the transfer volume and finally realize the annual transfer volume of 18 billion cubic meters.
The Pipe-work Has Been Started Up Smoothly
The world's first pipeline was laid in 1872, while China's first pipeline was built in 1970, lagging behind for 100 full years. However, construction of the west-to-east pipelining project will raise China's pipeline construction level to the world first rate at one stroke: Completely automatic control will be realized for the 4,000 km pipeline, about one person for every 10 km on average.
Experts say the diameter of the gas pipeline is 1016 mm, and the grade of pressure is 10 mega-Pascal, the selection of tubular product is X70 steel, single pipe-laying is 4,000 km, the project runs across China, it has to run through desert, Gobi, loess plateau and across the three major water systems of the Yangtze, Yellow and Huaihe rivers and gets through the seismic breaking belt and high-intensity seismic active region, the degree of difficulties is rarely seen in the world.
This is the first time that China undertakes the construction of such a gigantic gas pipelining project, can it be completed on time in 2005?
"China National Petroleum Corporation is not only fully capable of completing the project as scheduled, but also is sure to complete it ahead of time", said General Manager Ma Fucai confidently.
It is reported that currently China has built 12,000 km of land gas pipelines which were all designed and constructed by China itself, the Sebei-Xining-Lanzhou peipeline just completed at the end of last year is a successful testing ground for the project and a lot of valuable experiences have been accumulated. For instance, the adoption of semi-automatic and automatic welding under freezing and high-heat belts as well as the bad external environment; for instance the trial use of 11.2 km home-made X70 steel for the first time, etc.
The pipelining team is strong and well-trained. At present, the China National Petroleum and Natural Gas Group Company alone possesses four professional pipelining teams, two professional design institutes, more than 9,000 builders; there are also a number of oil construction teams. It is due to a well-thought-out plan beforehand that the 4,000-km pipeline can be completed in a little over two years.
The central government has decided that the west-to-east gas pipelining project includes the construction and management of pipelines and the construction and transformation of urban pipe networks, the whole line is open to the outside world and all-round cooperation with foreign countries is introduced, this opening strategy has provided a solid guarantee for the smooth implementation of this project. The west-to-east gas pipelining project is China's largest joint venture with foreign companies undertaken since the launch of China's reform and opening-up policy, which is greatly favored by foreign investors. The investment group jointly formed by several companies including the strongest Shell and Exxon corporations in the international petroleum circles has begun to get itself involved in it.
On February 5 this year, the five experimental projects in the river-passing-through section with a fairly long period of construction in this project and in the river networking section south of the Yangtze River were the first to start construction. General Manager Huang Weihe told us that construction of the 265-km river networking section is the most difficult, currently it is progressing smoothly and is expected to be all completed by the end of this year; the passing-through section of the Huaihe River has been finished without a hitch.
Speaking about the progress of the pipelining project, the General Manager said that the entire project is to be constructed in two stages: the Lunnan-Jingbian section and the Jingbian-Shanghai section. On January 1, 2004, the 1537-km Jingbian-Shanghai section will be put through, the natural gas of Changqing gas-field will be transferred first; after the whole line is through in 2005, gas from Tarim will begin to be transferred.
The overture for the large-scale development of the western region has been sounded, and the curtain for the construction of the project has been raised, we seem like being able to see a new economic belt-an economic belt, that radiates wider and exerts deeper influence than the Yangtze Economic Belt and the Yellow Economic Belt, is rising majestically on the vast land of China.
(People's Daily July 5, 2002)