China on Friday afternoon launched a gas pipeline that runs from southwestern Sichuan to coastal Shanghai, another "energy artery" to fuel the booming but energy-insufficient east following the grand West-East gas project.

The 1,700-km pipeline is expected to channel 12 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually from the Puguang field in Sichuan Province to the central and eastern regions that cover Hubei, Anhui, Jiangxi, Jiangsu, Zhejiang provinces and Shanghai.

Addressing the launching ceremony, Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan said the project will serve as another "energy artery" of the country in addition to the West-East gas pipeline, which runs more than 4,000 kilometers from northwesternmost Xinjiang to Shanghai and began operation in 2004.

Zeng said the project offers an opportunity for the country's west, which boasts rich resources but lags far behind the east in economic growth, to tap its advantage in resources for development.

If things go well, the project, with an investment of 62.7 billion yuan (US$8.25 billion), will start to channel gas to Shanghai at the beginning of 2010, according to Chen Deming, vice minister in charge of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

When the project is completed, the clean energy resource is expected to help reduce carbon dioxide emission by tens of millions of tons annually, said Chen.

Proven reserves of the Puguang gas field may reach 430 billion cubic meters by the end of this year, said He Shenghou, an official with the China Petroleum and Chemical Corp. (Sinopec).

China's proven reserve of natural gas has totaled 2.66 trillion cubic meters. The gas-rich country has been promoting the use of natural gas to improve energy buildup and cut air pollution.

Under an NDRC proposal on natural gas development, China aims to increase its natural gas pipeline to 4.4 trillion kilometers by 2010 to satisfy surging demand.

Although China's natural gas output would reach 94 billion cubic meters in 2010 from 58.6 billion in 2006, the country would still need imports to fill a gap of 16 billion cubic meters a year, according to the China Business News.

In Shanghai, demand of natural gas has soared from four million cubic meters in 2003 to 1.9 billion in 2005.

With the operation of the West-East gas pipeline, 1.2 billion cubic meters of gas is channeled to Shanghai from the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang every year.

China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) has decided to build a second West-East pipeline to carry gas imported from Central Asia to the Pearl River and Yangtze River deltas.

Construction will begin in 2008 and gas supply in 2010. The designed annual production volume will be 30 billion cubic meters.

Copyright 2007 XINHUA NEWS AGENCY.