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Petroleum Geology & Potential
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Exploration Achievements
Characteristics Of China's Oil and Gas Resource
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  Exploration Achievements
            China abounds with oil-gas resources, holding more than 500 oil-bearing basins. Since 1949, China has made great achievements in petroleum exploration and development, and extensively prospected for oil-gas resources in these basins. It was estimated that China has a total oil resource of 650 - 800 billion barrels; 102 billion barrels being recoverable. The total gas resource is 1,334-1,873 Tcf; 353 Tcf are recoverable. By the end of 2001, China has discovered 531 oil fields and 185 gas fields in 150 basins, and has gained proven oil reserves of 156.2 billion barrels and residual recoverable oil reserves of 18.3 billion barrels, and proven gas reserves of 127.9 billion cubic feet (Bcf), and residual recoverable gas reserves of 53.4 Bcf.
Oil-Gas Resources of China (as at end of 2000)
Oil Resources (in billion barrels)
Total Resources
Recoverable Resources
Accumulated Proven Reserves
Residual Recoverable Reserves
650 - 800
Gas Resources
Total Resources (Tcf)
Recoverable Resources (Bcf)
Accumulated Proven Reserves (Bcf)
Residual Recoverable Reserves (Bcf)
1,334 - 1,873
            Since 1949, China's crude oil production has grown greatly. Crude oil production in 1949 was only 0.88 million barrels. Through effective and hard exploration for about twenty years, some huge-scale oilfields, such as Daqing, Shengli, Liaohe, had been discovered in 1960's and 1970's. This resulted in the substantial increase of crude oil production. In 1978 it exceeded 730 million barrels and became one of the largest oil-producing nations in the world. From 1980 to the late 1990's, many middle-large oil fields and gas fields have been discovered in the basins from central to western China and in the offshore areas, such as in Erdos, Sichuan, Tarim, Zunger and Bohai Sea and Pearl River. Crude oil production grew steadily to 1,171 million barrels in 1997, ranking 5th in the world. Since the late 1990's, oil production has grown slowly. In 2001, the oil production increased to 1,204 million barrels. In 1957, gas production was only 2.5 Bcf, and had reached 943 Bcf in 2000 ranking 14th place in the world.
            All these great achievements in exploration and development of oil-gas resources have provided the dependable and necessary energy for robust economic development since 1980's. It is these achievements that have driven "the engine "of economic development.
China's Growth of Oil Production
China's Growth of Gas Production


  Characteristics of China's Oil and Gas Resources
            In China, almost all oil and gas resources occur in the sedimentary basins. All the oil-bearing basins can be classified into three types: terrestrial, marine and composite. About 86% of the oil and gas resources are distributed in terrestrial basins, which usually have complex geological setting unfavorable to oil exploration. Oil and gas resources are not distributed homogeneously in all the sedimentary strata. Oil mainly exists in the Eocene, Cretaceous and Jurassic, and gas mainly in Tertiary, Carboniferous and Ordovician. 70% of the oil and gas resources have burial depth shallower than 3,500 m.
            Geographically, most petroleum deposits are widely distributed in four regions: 1) East and North-East regions, including Songliao and Bohaiwan basins, in which oil is richer than gas, 2) Central regions, including Sichuan and Erdos basins, where gas is more abundant than oil, 3) Western regions, including Tarim, Zunger, Chaidamu and Tuha basins, where both of oil and gas are abundant, 4) Offshore regions, including Bohai Sea, Huanghai Sea, East Sea, Northern South China Sea. Obviously, oil mostly occurs in the East, West and Bohai Sea, and gas occurs in the Central and Western regions.
            Topographically, oil and gas deposits are distributed in a variety of topographic settings, including hills, plains, seas, deserts, mountains, swamps and loess landform. The statistical analysis shows that about 53% of petroleum resources are in the hills and plains of eastern regions of China, 47% in the complex topographies of deserts and loess areas in the central and western regions of China.
Geographical Distributions of Oil and Gas Resources in China
            Evidently, geographical and topographical settings of oil and gas resources do not match with the demand of economic development. In the southern regions with a relatively developed economy, such as Shanghai, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Guangdong, petroleum resources are rather poor, but in the central and western regions with a laggard economy, such as Ningxia, Ganshu, Qinghai, Xinjiang, petroleum resources are abundant. This distribution of oil and gas resources is unfavorable to the development of China's economy. So it is necessary for China to allocate and adjust reasonably the distribution of oil and gas resources through constructing infrastructure, for example "West to East" gas pipeline, which is under way.
            China's structure of petroleum resources is unbalanced. The ratio of gas to oil is 0.45:1, lower than the world average of 0.7:1.0. In the production of oil and gas, the ratio is 0.16:1, very much lower than the world average of 0.7:1. It is clear that China has a petroleum resources structure of major oil and subsidiary gas.
Oil and Gas Resources Topographical Distributions in China
            Generally, the petroleum resources comprise both high and low quality varieties. High-quality oil has lower density and is found in the eastern and northeastern China, in burial depths shallower than 3,000 meters, and is relatively easy to exploit and produce. The low-quality oil includes heavy oil and low permeable oil and gas resources. The high quality oil and gas resources amount to about 57% of total petroleum resources; more than 40% of which are proven and more than 70% of the proven reserves have been recovered. The lower quality oil and gas resources amount to about 43% of the total oil and gas resources (21% of heavy oil and 22% of low permeable oil resources). They are difficult to exploit and refine.
            Besides the above-mentioned conventional oil and gas resources, China still holds abundant unconventional energy resources. The unconventional oil resources include extra heavy oil, bitumen, oil sand and oil shale. The unconventional gas resources are coal-bed methane, water-soluble gas and gas-hydrates. The total unconventional oil resources is predicted at 73 billion barrels, coal-bed methane with burial depth shallower than 2,000 m is about 1,060 Tcf, and water-soluble gas about 1,590Tcf. There are evidence of gas hydrates resource in the East Sea and South China Sea.

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Last Update: 8 August 2002