China said its recent gas discovery in the politically volatile South China Sea could yield 100 billion cubic meters of natural gas, underlining Beijing's determination to extract resources from waters claimed by several nations.
The Lingshui 17-2 gas field was discovered 150 kilometers south of China's southernmost island of Hainan, and the Ministry of Land and Resources has approved it as a large-scale find, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
It cited the country's main offshore oil and gas producer, China National Offshore Oil Corp. Calls to the company's press office rang unanswered Tuesday.
Xizhou Zhou, senior director and head of China for IHS Energy, said that 100 billion cubic meters was a "decent amount but not that substantial," and equivalent to about six to seven months of Chinese gas supply currently.
"In addition, new discoveries often take years to develop, so by the time this gas starts to flow, the Chinese gas market could be much bigger than it is today," he said.
Petroleum reserves and fisheries are among the resources at stake in disputes over the South China Sea, which is one of the world's busiest shipping routes and a patchwork of overlapping claims by governments including China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.
China claims virtually all of the South China Sea.
China National Offshore Oil Corp.'s exploration rig made the discovery about a month after it withdrew in July from a tense maritime standoff with Vietnam in the latter's exclusive economic zone.
China's placing of the rig in contested waters off Vietnam two months earlier triggered a wave of violent protests among Vietnamese, leaving at least two Chinese workers dead and 140 injured.
The gas field has a depth of about 1,500 meters, which is at the extreme cusp of what the industry considers a deep-water field, or those from 400 to 1,500 meters. Greater than 1,500 meters would be ultra-deep, where extraordinary pressures make the building of facilities extremely difficult.