The start of fracking in China could well be the best environmental news of the year. Here is why.
China sits on natural gas reserves that are estimated to be 50% higher than the massive gas reserves in the USA. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2012/08/120808-china-shale-gas/. Despite this gargantuan gas resource, coal provides China 80% of its electricity, compared to 34% in the USA, as of May 2012. Why the difference?
The shale gas boom that is now more than 10 years long in the USA is just getting started in China and so the Chinese remain heavily reliant on coal to make electricity and for their total energy. Around the world, the basic energy choice is coal or gas. China is just the biggest example of this fundamental fact.
China's reliance on coal means that its economic growth brings skyrocketing carbon emissions and other air pollution. Indeed, Chinese air quality is infamous around the world, and smog has been so thick that Beijing airport has been unable to land planes for short periods.
As of 2011, China was responsible for 29% of the world's carbon emissions, while the US produced 16%, even though the US economy is still considerably bigger than China's. Moreover, US carbon emissions are declining to 1992 levels, but China's emissions skyrocket.
Though China is building substantial new wind, solar, and nuclear generation, those investments are not enough to cut Chinese coal consumption, given economic growth that is still 7% in what some describe as an economic slowdown. Shale gas, however, could be big enough to actually displace significant amounts of coal in China.
More gas in China means less mercury, soot. lead, smog, and carbon emissions. China's energy plans call for shale gas to provide 6% of its total energy as soon as 2020. If it achieves that goal, China will avoid more than 500 million tons of carbon pollution per year or about 1.5% of today's total carbon emissions.
For the sake of the world's climate, China needs to get cracking on fracking!