The groundwater in 57% of China’s cities is significantly polluted. Sanitation and clean water access are still huge issues in the Middle Kingdom, especially in rural areas. Water resources are also subject to severe quantity shortages. In essence, there is not enough water in China to keep up with current demands, and much of the available water is dangerous for human consumption.
So why would China seek to embrace a fossil fuel extraction technique that 1) uses 10 times the amount of water as conventional oil and gas extraction and 2) contaminates groundwater?
The rush for cheap energy for development knows no bounds. We know this. Still, to witness what is tantamount to gaining speed while approaching a cliff, which is in plain view, can be exasperating, even if you get used to it after a while.
As part of its current five-year economic plan, China aims to produce 6.5 billion cubic meters of shale gas a year by the end of 2015. To reach that production goal, 1,380 wells need to be drilled, requiring up to 13.8 million cubic meters of water, an industry expert told Caixin. By contrast, China’s entire industrial sector uses about 35 million cubic meters of water annually.
The advantages of extracting shale gas through hydraulic fracturing, aka “fracking , are plain. In the US, fracking has provided a cheap, domestic source of energy, which may in fact greatly diminish the country’s dependence on foreign oil. But the fact that it’s water intensive and pollutes groundwater are serious concerns. People don’t want to choose between what may seem to be abstract issues of energy independence and global security vs. being able to drink and bathe in their own tap water.
China is another story altogether, in terms of population density, water resources, standards of water safety, the regulation of industry, etc. In terms of climate change, fracking does produce significant ghg emissions. However, if heavily coal-dependent China were to replace coal use with natural gas (rather than simply adding shale gas to it’s energy mix), it would be significantly less air polluting and ghg emitting. Of course this is separate from the issues of water scarcity and water pollution.
From the Guardian:
With about 20 percent of the world’s population and only 6 percent of the world’s water resources, China is one of the least water-secure countries in the world. Its water shortages are made worse by pollution: According to the Ministry of Water Resources about 40 percent of China’s rivers were so polluted they were deemed unfit for drinking, while about 300 million rural residents lack access to safe drinking water each year.
Other concerns associated with fracking include its potential to exacerbate earthquakes and the difficulties of safely disposing or recycling the chemical/water/earth slurry that results from the fracking process.
Read more about the environmental and economic concerns of fracking in The Age.
Read more on China’s environment and fracking from Caixin Online.