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China to Beef Up Natural Gas Exploitation
China, the third largest oil-importing nation after the United State and Japan, is planning to step up its natural gas exploitation, said Xia Honghui, general manager of the Southwestern Oil-Gas Subcompany under the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), told Xinhua Tuesday.

Xia, a deputy to the current First Session of the 10th National People's Congress (NPC), said his company is expected to launch a new round of exploration of large-scale natural gas fields in China's vast western regions. With a total ascertained deposit of 2 trillion cubic meters, the four major oil-gas fields, located in the vast arid areas in western China, are the Sichuan Basin, Tarim and Ordos basins in westernmost Xinjiang, and the Qaidam Basin in Qinghai Province, also in northwestern China.

"We are striving to make new breakthroughs in natural gas exploitation in western China," said Xia.

According to authoritative sources, China is striving to increase the annual natural gas output from current 30-odd billion cubic meters to anywhere from 80 billion to 100 billion cubic meters in the coming seven years, so as to ease its reliance on domestic oil and oil imported. The laying of the complete networks of natural gas pipeline is in full swing across the country.

It is calculated that approximately 1,200 cubic meters of natural gas is equivalent to one ton of crude and some 100 billion cubic meters of gas would then amount to 80 million-plus tons of crude oil.

"This would be equal to half of China's current annual crude oil output, exceeding the total amount of crude oil the country has imported annually," said Xia, adding that natural gas would play a critical role in ensuring the country's energy safety.

At present, China produces about 160 million tons of crude oil and imports approximately another 70 million tons every year.

China launched a gigantic project of piping natural gas from west to east last year, with a combined investment of more than 200 billion yuan (US$24 billion). Through the pipeline networks, natural gas from the Tarim Basin in the northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region will be piped to Shanghai, more than 4,000 kilometers away in east China. The project is expected to be completed in 2003.

In addition, China is expected to pave natural gas pipelines from Chongqing Municipality at the upper reaches of the Yangtze River to the cities of Wuhan and Changsha in central China this year, with a cost of between 6 billion and 7 billion yuan (US$720 million to 840 million)

Economists hold that the economic rim around Wuhan City is of the greatest development potential after the Yangtze River Delta and the Zhujiang (Pearl) River Delta. However, a sustained economic growth needs the support of adequate energy supply.

Currently, China mainly uses natural gas as fuel in household cooking and public transportation, with a view of improved environmental protection. In Beijing, the pipeline gas has now been available to many residential areas, and a large number of buses with natural gas as their fuel are running on streets around the city.

Moreover, in Chengdu, the capital of southwestern Sichuan Province, natural gas has replaced petroleum on a large scale. More than 100 gas filling stations have been emerged in the city.

(Xinhua News Agency March 11, 2003)

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