The shale gas revolution spread to China yesterday as Royal Dutch Shell struck the rock-based fossil fuel while drilling, heralding the country's first commercial production.
In a joint venture with its local partner, PetroChina, Shell has drilled two wells and discovered a good flow of gas.
"It's good news for shale gas," said Professor Yuzhang Liu, vice president of Petrochina's Research Institute of Petroleum Exploration and Development. Shale gas is fraught with controversy because it is extracted from the rock with blasts of sand, water and chemicals through a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that has been linked to earthquakes and water pollution.
However, the discovery of vast quantities of the gas in countries such as the US, Poland and the UK has the potential to provide a relatively cheap, secure source of energy.
In April, the US Energy Information Administration estimated that China may hold 1,275 trillion cubic feet of shale gas, 12 times its conventional gas reserves and almost 50 per cent greater than in the US.