CHEYENNE, Wyo. — It's more about greenbacks and less about the Red Menace.
China's recent deal for assets and exploration in the Niobrara Shale should be viewed as part of a complex energy relationship among China, the United States and the rest of the world, some Wyoming energy experts say.
"It's part of the mix. To me, that is the reality we're working in, it's a mutual dependency," said Jean Garrison, director of international studies and professor of political science at the University of Wyoming. "These are people we're going to be dealing with in a business setting."
China's $1.3 billion Niobara Shale deal with Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy is just one of many cooperative deals recently signed between the country's state-owned oil companies and businesses in the U.S., Canada, Australia and South America.
Mark Northam, director of UW's School of Energy Resources, said he would be more concerned if Chinese state-owned firms tried to buy companies such as Chesapeake outright.
Instead, such as in the Chesepeake deal, the Chinese will cooperate with an American company to explore and develop new U.S. energy sources.
With China holding so much of the U.S. national debt, deals such as that in the Niobrara Shale have the potential to bring U.S. dollars back into the country, he said.
"They have a minority position, they're not going to develop it — it's a U.S. company going to develop it," he said. "Basically they will then have to buy the oil at market rates, so we have the ability to generate U.S. income from a Chinese investment, which is a good thing."
Garrison, Northam and Rob Hurless, former energy and technology adviser to former Gov. Dave Freudenthal, served on the energy expert panel at a symposium in Cheyenne on Tuesday. The event addressed the global competition for energy and its implications for Wyoming. China and its huge appetite for energy dominated the discussion.
The public meeting was the eighth of its kind held by Garrison and others at locations around Wyoming and was attended by approximately 70 people, including legislators, energy industry representatives and members of the public.
While China produces much of its own energy, it's an oil importer and more recently began importing coal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
China's growing hunger for energy is a consequence of its growing economy, which is sped up by its involvement in a global marketplace -- something the U.S. has promoted for decades, Garrison said.
Garrison said Chinese energy policy is determined by a complex web of bureaucracy. For example, China has no central ministry of energy to set policy. Chinese state-owned firms are generally not state-controlled, according to a recent report published by the International Energy Agency.
"I don't think China is as strategic as we think they are," Garrison said.
China's environmental regulations are more lax than those in the U.S., which Garrison said leads to some dire environmental costs, such as heavily polluted skies and sludge-filled rivers.
"I think it's really important to recognize that is part of this bargain, because we have to remember we live on this earth long-term as well," she said. "So there are tradeoffs, there are always tradeoffs."
Northam said China is beginning to pay closer attention to the country's environmental condition, and its citizens and government are beginning to push for more stringent regulations.
"Their attention to environmental concerns is growing extremely rapidly," he said.