(TibetanReview.net, Apr08, 2014)
Having found it to contain “enormous oil and natural gas potential”, China has now punched a seven-kilometre borehole into the Tibetan Plateau in a bid to extract these globally scarce resources, reported scmp.com Apr 7. But, like in the case of all other efforts at the exploration of resources in occupied Tibet, China is keeping the project secret, refusing to reveal its whereabouts and the names of the oil and gas giants involved in it, the report added.
The report cited Chinese scientists as saying this is the deepest borehole ever drilled at such extreme altitudes. Although Tibet’s remoteness, thin air and lack of infrastructure had so far saved it from the unchecked exploration and extraction of fossil fuels and minerals, this was set to change as China looked to lessen its dependence on oil imports.
The report said its source, Professor Li Haibing, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, had refused to reveal the project’s location and the state-owned oil companies active in the region. Li, who works for the academy’s Institute of Geology, has only referred to the difficulties in undertaking the project. He has said, “Tibet’s altitude and geology make it among the world’s most difficult drilling locations. Fragmented [geological] structures, prone to collapse, increase the risks.” Besides, he has noted, “oxygen scarcity at higher elevations drains workers’ energy considerably”.
China’s two largest state-owned oil and gas companies, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec), have been active in Tibet for nearly 20 years but have refused to respond to queries on projects there. It said CNPC began exploring the Qiangtang Basin in central Tibet in 1995 and subsequently estimated the basin’s oil reserves at 10 billion tonnes, or more than 70 billion barrels.
Likewise, in 1997, Sinopec established its first exploration centre in Nagqu (Tibetan: Nagchu) county, with the aim of mapping the surrounding area with detailed seismic surveys and experimental drilling.
The report cited Li as saying Beijing was reviewing a proposal for a new “deep-earth” exploration project “submitted by the nation’s most prominent geologists” to drill wells more than 10 kilometres deep to obtain study samples, with Tibet as an area of the greatest interest.
The report added that in Aug 2013, the China Geological Survey, under the Ministry of Land and Resources, signed a 20 million yuan exploration agreement with Sinopec after the Tibet region showed “enormous oil and natural gas potential”, citing the ministry’s website.
The report also cited Professor Wei Wenbo, a geologist with the China University of Geosciences and an expert on Tibetan geological conditions, as saying scientists were continuing to debate Tibet’s oil and gas potential and that the seven-kilometre borehole might clarify some of the questions about the region’s hydrocarbon and mineral resources.
However, noting that mining projects had the potential to irreversibly mar Tibet’s fragile ecosystems, Wei has cautioned, “Environmental impact studies must be undertaken and risks assessed before commercial projects are approved.”