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Pipeline Project Hailed
The west-east gas pipeline project, part of China's efforts to develop the landlocked western region, will be a win-win solution, many scholars agree. But much work remains to be done.

The grandiose project, slated to be wrapped up within three years, will not only upgrade the energy structure in the eastern region, but also perk up gas-related industries of the areas near the pipeline, said Lu Dadao, a researcher with Geographical Institute under Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The government's endeavour to dust off a gas pipeline project with an investment of 38.4 billion yuan (US$4.6 billion), zeros in on patching up the unreasonable energy structure in the eastern region so as to jazz up the area's economy, said Lu.

For Shanghai alone, the 4,167-kilometre pipeline would supply 12 billion cubic metres of natural gas annually to the city for 30 years. This would ease the burden-ladened railway sector, which puts a huge amount of capital and human resources into transporting coal from the north to the south.

Although experts hold that the east region will not face an energy crisis anytime soon, an unreasonable energy structure has put a constraint on China's sustainable development strategy.

Natural gas makes up only 2 per cent of China's energy consumption while coal constitutes 75 per cent. Such high levels of coal use have left most regions, especially the eastern one, susceptible to serious pollution.

The amount of China's carbon dioxide emission has far surpassed that of the United States, a highly industrialized country.

An unbalanced energy structure has pit economic growth against environmental protection. If the gloomy picture fails to be reversed soon, the situation will deteriorate.

"The west-east gas pipeline project comes at a critical time when the government sets its western development campaign afoot. It is a long-conceived brainchild of the central government which is bent on keeping with the international energy development trend," said Li Tong, an expert with Petrochemical Design Institute.

It is estimated that natural gas will become a dominant fuel in the 21st century because of its low cost and environmental benefits. Petroleum use is also expected to drop substantially.

China, the second largest consumer of natural gas in the world, has large gas reserves, a prerequisite for the huge project.

The Tarim Oil Field Corp and the Northwest Petroleum Administration of the China Petrochemical Group have found 532.9 billion cubic metres of natural gas reserves in the Tarim Basin of the northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Talk about gas supply uncertainty died down as more and more natural gas fields were discovered, said Li. "The project is beneficial to both the eastern and the western regions," said Li. This can explain why experts call it a win-win deal, he added.

Aside from playing a significant role in retooling the energy structure in East China and meeting the region's increasing demand for clean energy, the project is expected to boost the gas-related industry in nine provinces that the project will run through.

The project starts from Xinjiang, running through Shaanxi, Gansu, Shanxi, Henan, Anhui and Jiangsu provinces as well as the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region to Shanghai. A preliminary estimate indicates that at least 1.74 million tons of steel and iron will be needed to build the pipeline. And a large amount of limber and cement will also be required.

"It is a novel way to buoy China's sluggish consumption since last year, and direct billions of yuan from bank accounts into store tills," said Li.

Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous region will greatly benefit from the project, which is likely to take in a plethora of surplus labourers, according to Li.

But to turn the energy advantage into potential economic gain, the western region must team up with the eastern one to strengthen internal communication, an official in charge of the project said on the condition of anonymity.

The construction of gas transmission stations and gas storage equipment in the east and the laying-down of the pipeline in the west must be synchronized, suggested Li Tong.

Inaction on any side could result in losses and an imposition of a moratorium on the project, the official said. It is estimated that 80 billion yuan (US$9.6 billion) will be earmarked for construction in the east for such things as installation of the line or establishment of service stations.

(People's Daily May 27, 2000)

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