China is rapidly expanding production and use of cleaner burning natural gas in an attempt to wean itself off heavily polluting coal for electricity and heating. In the next five years, it plans to increase the share of natural gas from the current 4 percent of its total energy mix to 8 percent, more than doubling consumption from 110 billion cubic meters (bcm) in 2010 to 260 bcm in 2015. Much of this new natural gas is expected to be unconventional shale gas: in the recent five-year plan for shale gas development, the Chinese government has set a target of developing 6.5 bcm of shale gas per year by 2015, ramping up to 60-100 bcm by 2020. (To put this into perspective, all of China’s natural gas production totaled 101 bcm in 2011.)
In the U.S., where shale gas production has become a major new source of natural gas in the last decade, reaching 140 bcm in 2010 (23% of all natural gas production), companies and regulators have developed best practices and technologies to streamline development, cut costs and protect the environment. These range from smart water-saving and reuse technologies to low-impact land reclamation. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recently released a report, “Leaking Profits” (read the factsheet here) analyzing the top 10 opportunities to capture unintended and unnecessary methane emissions from oil and gas production, including shale gas, which if implemented could reduce methane emissions by more than 80% and generate $2 billion in additional revenue for the industry each year. These technologies have huge implications for the future of shale gas development in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Implementing all these technologies in the U.S. could save 10 million metric tons of methane (equivalent to at least 300 million tons of carbon dioxide) and generate $2 billion in additional revenue.
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