China crude oil production declining with no shale oil development

China crude oil production declining with no shale oil development

Although China is one of the major countries that have shale oil reserves, about 48 billion tonnes of her proven reserves have almost not developed yet. Overall Chinese crude oil production with the downward tendency has recorded 29 consecutive months of year-on-year decrease since November 2015, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. The nation’s crude oil demand, however, increased by 13% during the same period. Thus, import dependency is growing to fill the gap between supply and demand. As the declining self-sufficiency is critical, China was unable to include crude oil in the tariff list for retaliate round of the trade war with the U.S.

In July 2018, China produced 3.75 million barrels per day of crude oil, while the General Customs data shows that imports reached 8.5 million bpd in the same period. Imported amount of crude oil was 2.3 times than domestic outputs. The import dependency is extraordinarily high for crude oil among energy supplies in China. Coal production in July was 282 million tonnes compared with 29 million tonnes of imports, and natural gas outputs were 13 billion cubic meters against 1 billion cubic meters of imports. China’s coal and natural gas imports stay at about 10% level of domestic production respectively. However, monthly coal production already has peaked out at around 300 million tonnes, while only the natural gas output is still showing growth.

China is not the only country that is showing a diminution of crude oil production. The upward movement of world crude oil output in the 2010’s is mostly aligned with that in the U.S. It is because of the Shale Revolution, as you know. Even if in the major shale production area, the reduction pace of production in legacy wells is expanding. So that development of new wells is the key factor to boost production. Investments in shale oil/gas development are concentrating in the specific zones like Permian Basin in the U.S. where production costs are the most competitive. It accelerates production efficiency in that areas further and depresses on traditional oil field developments in other regions. Booming shale oil productions in the Permian Basin has caused a lack of transport capacity by pipelines and output was capped as a result.

China has the world third largest shale oil proven reserves and the biggest shale gas proven reserves. However, the majority of these reserves are located in the remote places like Sichuan where developments are quite difficult. There are many issues regarding drilling and transportation. Additionally, large water usage for the Hydraulic fracturing is also an obstacle. Shale oil/gas wells said to require typically from about 10,000 tonnes to 60,000 tonnes or more of water per well depending on each depth. Although China may not need to care about environmental issues that raise counter-movements against shale oil/gas development in the U.S., spending valuable water resources to produce crude oil seems not so reasonable compared to importing crude oil.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects that shale oil production in the U.S will maintain growth towards 2030. Crude oil development in China may not be expanded at least until then. Since the country can’t yield more coal as well, the lower energy self-supply could cause arguments. However, we are unable to forecast the future exactly. Before the Shale Revolution, the U.S. was also in similar oil production diminutions as current China. And no one knows how long demand of the fossil fuel in China will continue to enlarge.


★【Sozen Fujiwara】

Research partner、Institute of Economics for Humans

Private investor

Bachelor of Arts, Hiroshima University

Master of Economics, Nihon University

Worked as a reporter for US-based financial media after engaged in futures markets in China and Southeast Asia as a trader. Before that started work experience as a local newspaper reporter.

Immigrated to New Zealand for children’s educational opportunity. Participated in the management of a nutritional product manufacturer that is owned by wife’s family.

Having more than 30 years experience in commodity markets and operating a crude oil market specific blog since 2010:



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