Chinese state energy giant PetroChina plans to spend more than 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) on shale gas this year, more than triple its expenditures on the unconventional fuel over the past few years, two sources with knowledge of the matter said.
PetroChina's decision to dramatically hike its shale gas spending comes just months after local rival Sinopec Corp lifted hopes that China is near a breakthrough by announcing a commercial find.
PetroChina, Asia's largest oil and gas producer, has also lifted its 2015 shale gas output target to 2.6 billion cubic metres (bcm), up from the previous 1.5 bcm, according to a company official and a government source.
That would represent only about 2 percent of China's total natural gas output of around 113 bcm last year.
"PetroChina wants to play catch up after Sinopec's success," said a government source who has been briefed on PetroChina's plans.
Since around 2010, PetroChina has spent about 3 billion yuan ($482.39 million) total on pilot shale drilling, according to both sources.
Faced with high drilling costs and the complexity of tapping shale gas, China has struggled in its bid to revolutionise its energy supplies. The top energy consumer wants to unlock what could be the world's largest shale gas reserves by emulating the hectic exploration and production of the U.S. shale boom.
The government official said PetroChina will focus on two pilot zones - Weiyuan-Changning in southwest Sichuan basin and Zhaotong in Yunnan province.
Sinopec's shale work has been concentrated in the Fuling area of Chongqing municipality in southwest China, also part of the Sichuan basin, one of the most promising geological zones for the unconventional fuel. Sinopec has drilled nearly 30 pilot shale gas wells in the Fuling area.
PetroChina has so far largely focused on growing its conventional oil and gas portfolio.
($1 = 6.2190 Chinese Yuan)
(Reporting by Chen Aizhu; Editing by Tom Hogue)