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China has a chance of challenging the United States for shale supremacy. So far, only the United States has significantly exploited domestic reserves of shale gas. But Sinopec, China’s major state-run oil company, is now taking shale seriously and lacks many of the roadblocks that have held back developers in other countries.

Many nations have energy trapped in their rocks, but shale gas extraction, born in the U.S.A., has all but stayed here. France moved to ban hydraulic fracturing, the contentious drilling technique used to extract energy from shale, earlier this year. In Europe mineral rights often belong to the government, making it difficult for landowners to profit from shale development and thus hardening public opposition. Only in Poland is much progress being made.

China, however, may be best suited to shale. In New York and New Jersey, authorities have halted drilling in response to public unease, at least temporarily. Such sentiments are unlikely to stand in the way in China, where over 1.2 million people were moved to make way for the Three Gorges Dam.

There is good reason to develop shale, too. About 71 percent of China’s power comes from coal, creating an acute need for lower-carbon sources of energy. And while the low price of natural gas may slow drilling in the United States over the coming year, China’s state oil companies have proved willing to operate at a loss to ensure domestic supply.

China’s emerging enthusiasm for domestic shale may be partly a hardball tactic for negotiating with Russian suppliers, with which the country has been struggling to agree on a price for gas imports.

Moreover, geologic deposits are an unknown. While China may have about 50 percent more shale gas than the United States, according to the Energy Information Administration, it has yet to uncover formations like the vast Marcellus or Eagle Ford deposits. But don’t count China out: in the shale race, abundant capital, determination and political will go a long way.

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