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China Buys Gas-Tapping Technology

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on October 11, 2010

My colleague John Duce and I wrote in this week’s issue of Bloomberg Businessweek about China’s search for unconventional gas — gas trapped in coal deposits, for instance, or in shale. The country has huge potential for this kind of unconventional gas: China has as much as 30 trillion cubic meters of gas trapped in coal and shale, ten times more than the country’s conventional gas reserves. Getting access to all that unconventional gas isn’t easy, though, which is one reason state-owned PetroChina has invested in Australian company Arrow Energy, which specializes in extracting unconventional gas.

In June, China National Petroleum formed a joint venture with a Canadian company, Encana, to develop unconventional gas projects in Canada. As Worldwatch Research Fellows Saya Kitasei and Haibing Ma write, “the deal with Encana will give CNPC a chance to gain insight from an independent gas company that has some of the longest experience with applying hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to extract gas from shale formations. In this model, one hand washes the other: major oil and gas companies gain access to the technology and expertise they need to develop unconventional gas, and smaller independent gas companies get access to the sizeable amounts of capital that many have needed in recent years.”

Now comes news that another state-owned company, CNOOC International, has agreed to pay $1.08 billion in cash for a one-third stake in a shale gas project in south Texas owned by Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy. Like PetroChina’s Aussie deal, this Texas investment is not just about a short-term boost to supply from developing unconventional gas reserves overseas; it should also help the Chinese achieve their bigger goal, developing unconventional gas reserves at home.

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