Development of shale gas resources is expected to play an important role in China's projected transition to a low-carbon energy future. The question arises whether the availability of water could limit this development. The paper considers a range of scenarios to define the demand for water needed to accommodate China's projected shale gas production through 2020. Based on data from the gas field at Fuling, the first large-scale shale gas field in China, it is concluded that the water intensity for shale gas development in China (water demand per unit lateral length) is likely to exceed that in the US by about 50%. Fuling field would require a total of 39.9–132.9 Mm3 of water to achieve full development of its shale gas, with well spacing assumed to vary between 300 and 1000 m. To achieve the 2020 production goal set by Sinopec, the key Chinese developer, water consumption is projected to peak at 7.22 Mm3 in 2018. Maximum water consumption would account for 1% and 3%, respectively, of the available water resource and annual water use in the Fuling district. To achieve China's nationwide shale gas production goal set for 2020, water consumption is projected to peak at 15.03 Mm3 in 2019 in a high-use scenario. It is concluded that supplies of water are adequate to meet demand in Fuling and most projected shale plays in China, with the exception of localized regions in the Tarim and Jungger Basins.
The Harvard-China Project adopted an Open Access policy in September 2017. Most journal articles published henceforth are available in the Harvard University open-access repository, DASH.