China applies WEPP lessons as natural gas demand grows

Feb. 5, 2007
Completion of China’s West-East Pipeline Project (WEPP) and its successful operation during the past 2 years has provided valuable experience that China is applying to future natural gas pipelines as the country strives to use more gas in the future.

Completion of China’s West-East Pipeline Project (WEPP) and its successful operation during the past 2 years has provided valuable experience that China is applying to future natural gas pipelines as the country strives to use more gas in the future.

WEPP is modern China’s second-largest infrastructure project after the Three Gorges Dam. It began operations in January 2005, moving natural gas from the Tarim basin in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of far western China to the eastern China cities of Zhengzhou and Nanjing, with the mainline terminating in Shanghai and lateral pipelines terminating in Hangzhou, Wuhu, and Hefei (OGJ, Mar. 17, 2003, p. 68).

Complicated conditions

The WEPP crosses topographical features that created construction difficulties.

  • Crossings of the three largest rivers in China (Yellow, Yangtze, and Huai), including a more than 7-km crossing of the Yellow River in Zhengzhou.
  • Tunnels through three mountains.
  • Crossing of the vast loess plateau in central China. Loess soils are extremely complex, exist in just a few areas of the world, and are easily eroded once disturbed.
  • Crossing of wetlands in eastern China (OGJ, July 21, 2003, p. 58). Work in the wetlands had to balance the pipe’s tendency to float in some areas and sink into the mud in others.

WEPP planners and government officials were also concerned about possible environmental effects of the project, both when it was under construction and as it entered commercial operation. Planners redirected the pipeline to avoid damaging natural reserves and places of historical importance. According to the regional Xinjiang Environmental Protection Bureau, the project added 150 million yuan ($18 million) to its cost to take a camel-friendly route through northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Pipeline plans

Encouraged by the WEPP, and to satisfy rising demand for natural gas, China has built or plans to build more gas pipelines, including:

  • A second Shaanxi-to-Beijing line.
  • A 900-km bridge pipeline from Beijing to Shandong province.
  • East China Sea Xihu Gas Field Consortium transmission lines.

China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) also plans to invest 4.3 billion yuan to boost capacity of the WEPP itself to 17 billion cu m/year from 12 billion cu m/year. The capacity-boosting project will raise the number of pumping stations along the line to 22 from 10.

Bigger than any of these projects, however, China plans to build the second west-east pipeline by 2010. The draft of Guidelines for the “Eleventh Five-Year Development Plan for National Economic and Social Development (2006-2010)” submitted for examination and approval by the ongoing fourth session of the 10th National People’s Congress (NPC) included a proposal for the second WEPP.

The NPC is still researching the project’s feasibility, with no timetable yet set for its construction. The fate, timing, and route of a second WEPP depend directly on supply and demand in China’s natural gas market. But an official with CNPC said that the second pipeline would have a larger diameter than the first west-east pipeline and will cost much more than the 46 billion yuan spent on the first one.

The network

China’s natural gas pipeline network delivers from three separate resources. Development during the next 20 years will continue to focus on these resources.

• Domestic inland gas. With China’s major inland gas fields located in the western part of the country, most domestic gas flows from west to east. Gas arteries following this path include the WEPP, the Shaanxi-Beijing pipeline, and the Zhongwu line, with the Chuanhu line planned to pipe gas out of Sichuan province.

Zhongwu has one 711-mm OD trunkline from Zhong county, Chongqing municipality to Wuhan city, Hubei province. Three branch lines run from Jingzhou to Xiangfan (406.4-mm OD), Qianjiang to Xiangtan (610 and 508-mm), and Wuhan to Huangshi (323.9-mm). The total system extends 1,347.3 km, 718.9 km of which is trunkline, and has a design capacity of 3 billion cu m/year.

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Authorities are still considering the Chuanhu project (Fig. 1). As proposed, it would include one 1,674-km trunkline from Pugang, Sichuan, to Shanghai (1,016-mm OD from Pugang to Xuancheng, Anhui; 864 mm from Xuancheng to Shanghai), one 842-km sub-trunkline from Yichang, Hubei, to Poyang, Henan (813 mm from Yichang to Xinzheng, Henan; 711 mm from Xinzheng to Poyang), and three branch lines: 154 km from Liangping to Changshou, Chongqing (559-mm OD), 45 km from Tiansheng pumping station to Dazhou station, Sichuan (323.9 mm), and 148 km from Xuanchang to Nanjing (813 mm).

• Imported gas. China’s planners are also considering several cross-border pipelines from Russia and Central Asian nations Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan (Fig. 2).

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Gas from Russia will be transported along two routes, a west pipeline will enter China’s Xinjiang through Siberia and Altai, before connecting with the WEPP to bring natural gas to China’s coastal areas. An east pipeline, yet to be confirmed, might transport natural gas from the Kovykta or Sakhalin and Chayandinskoye gas fields located in Yakut.

Gas pipelines from Central Asia will join the WEPP directly.

The furthest advanced of these is the proposed Kazakhstan-China gas pipeline, which would traverse nearly 4,400 miles of Kazakh territory before reaching the border with China. Mussabek Issayevich Issayev, managing director of KazMunaiGaz for Kazakh gas projects, disclosed recently that the first phase of the proposed pipeline would enter service in 2009 at an initial rate of 10 billion cu m/year. The second phase, slated to become operational in 2012, will boost capacity 30 billion cu m/year.

• Domestic offshore gas. China plans to develop a coastal pipeline network to transport gas from offshore gas fields in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.

Although a full picture of this network has yet to emerge, some sections are already under construction. In late October 2006 work started on an 813-mm OD gas pipeline crossing the Qiantang River near Hangzhou. This pipeline, including a 2,450-m riverbed crossing, will be part of the coastal pipeline network.

The authors

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Meng-di Gu ([email protected]) is a professor of economics at Shanghai Jiao Tong Univesity, Shanghai. He was an assistant engineer for Guiyang Hydraulic Power Design Institute in China 1982-85. He holds a BS (1982) and MS (1988) from Hohai University in Nanjing and a PhD (1992) from Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

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Shou-de Li ([email protected]) is an associate professor of economics at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Before joining the university, he was a lecturer at Xi’an Jiao Tong University. He holds a BS (1988), MS (1996) and a PhD (2000) from Xi’an Jiao Tong University.