Skip to content

UPDATE: Trade deal, fracking boom further threaten the right to water in China

Mother Jones reports, “China is ratcheting up its fracking ambitions with virtually no regard for groundwater protection or other environmental safety measures, according to a new investigation by the independent publication Caixin. The report points to an October 24 white paper on energy development released by China’s top cabinet which ‘calls for ramping up the industry and pumping 6.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas from underground shale formations by 2015’.”

“If fracking takes off in China as planned, it will likely exacerbate the nation’s existing water crisis. ‘Most of the nation’s shale gas lies in areas plagued by water shortages,’ the report says. 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.” It has also been estimated that 90 percent of groundwater in their cities and 75 percent of their rivers and lakes are polluted – and as such some 700 million people drink contaminated water every day. It has been forecast that by 2020 there could be 30 million environmental refugees in China due to water stress.

“In order to reach the government’s annual shale gas production goal of 6.5 billion cubic meters by 2015, as many as 1,380 wells will need to be drilled across the country, requiring up to 13.8 million cubic meters of water, an industry source told Caixin. China’s industrial sector already consumes about 35 billion cubic meters of water a year. …There’s also serious risk of water contamination. …Multiple studies in recent years have concluded that shale gas drilling releases methane which can contaminate nearby water supplies. …But as Caixin reports, ‘there would be no legal reason to limit methane emissions at a shale gas well because China’s pollution standards do not cover methane’.”

“Foreign companies including Royal Dutch Shell are also showing interest in China’s fracking plans. Shell announced earlier this month that it had shale gas agreements with three major Chinese oil companies. Caixin also reported in September that Shell was in talks with one company about a shale gas joint venture. ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, and France-based Total are also working to form shale gas partnerships with Chinese oil and gas companies, according to an August National Geographic report.”

It is also possible that with the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement we may see that these ‘foreign companies’ include Canadian companies seeking to cash in on the fracking boom in China. When Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited China – and brought with him corporate executives from Enbridge, Canadian Oil Sands Ltd, Cameco Corp, and 37 other corporations, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow wrote, “Instead of promoting corporate friendly trade and investment deals that profit only the privileged, Canadians should be standing shoulder to shoulder with the Chinese people seeking better working conditions, improved human rights, and a clean environment in both our countries.”

It should also be noted that the Mother Jones article states, “Fracking has particular appeal in China because it provides an alternative to burning coal, which currently supplies about 70 percent of the nation’s consumed energy. Because natural gas can generate electricity at half the greenhouse gas emissions of coal, some see it as a way to reduce China’s carbon footprint.” We’ve noted in a previous campaign blog that more than 250,000 Chinese coal miners have died in mining accidents in China since 1949. Since 2009, China has been importing coal – to make steel and produce electricity – and is seeking new supplies. One major source of coal for China is British Columbia, which has 10 active coal mines and another 20 in development (including the Raven coal mine).

The full Mother Jones report is at http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/11/new-report-chinas-ultimate-goal-huge-fracking-industry. To read ‘UPDATE: The Canada-China FIPA and the right to water’, please go to http://canadians.org/blog/?p=17705. To read the February 2011 campaign blog ‘NEWS: China faces severe water crisis’, see http://canadians.org/blog/?p=5572. To see a February 2011 ‘big think’ video with Barlow on ‘China’s Water Crisis’, go to http://bigthink.com/ideas/26846. To read Globe and Mail columnist Eric Reguly’s argument in favour of Chinese industry coming to Canada to use the water here once it exhausts water sources in China, go to http://canadians.org/blog/?p=9219. To read ‘UPDATE: Coal threatens workers, water and the climate’, go to http://canadians.org/blog/?p=17888.