China’s coal addiction threatens the planet — but can it handle a natural gas revolution?
On a hazy morning last September, 144 American and Chinese government officials and high-ranking oil executives filed into a vaulted meeting room in a cloistered campus in south Xi’an, a city famous for its terra-cotta warriors and lethal smog. The Communist Party built this compound, called the Shaanxi Guesthouse, in 1958. It was part of the lead-up to Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward, in which, to surpass the industrial achievements of the West, the government built steelworks, coal mines, power stations, and cement factories — displacing hundreds of thousands and clearcutting a 10th of China’s forests in the process. Despite its quaint name, the guesthouse is a cluster of immense concrete structures jutting out of expansive, manicured lawns and man-made lakes dotted with stone bridges and pagodas. It also features a karaoke lounge, spa, tennis stadium, shopping center, and beauty salon. The guests at the compound that week were gearing up for another great leap: a push to export the United States’ fracking boom to China’s vast shale fields — and beyond. Attendees slid into black leather chairs behind glossy rosewood tables, facing a stage flanke... Read more