China has about twice the estimated shale gas reserves as the U.S., but commercial production has been slow to ramp up on the mainland—because of a combination of challenging geology and an inflexible industry structure. Analysts predict it will be anywhere from three years to two decades before China's commercial shale gas boom arrives.
In the meantime, Chinese companies have invested $5.5 billion in U.S. tight oil and shale gas through joint-venture deals, according to data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. (The figures do not include other Chinese investments in Canada.) "They are not after developing the gas for profit, but after the idea of learning the technology," says EIA energy economist Aloulou Fawzi. "They want to learn the technology and have a partner that may help them later to develop their own [domestic] shale resources."