Beijing: China plans to increase efforts to explore shale gas in 2012.This natural gas has become an important source of energy in the US over the past decade, and interest has spread to other countries with potential reserves. Shale gas deposits are found beneath shale rocks, fine-grained sedimentary rocks.

The land and resources ministry said Sunday the government will speed up the development of the shale gas industry. The move comes after the cabinet recently approved listing of the gas as an independent mineral resource. China has so far discovered 172 mineral resources, including shale. The shale gas production will help ease the country's natural gas shortage, Vice Minister of land and resources ministry Wang Min said at a geological conference.

China has a rich reserve of shale gas resource, estimated at 31 trillion cubic meters, equivalent to the total amount of conventional natural gas, Xinhua quoted Wang as saying. If developed properly, the country's shale gas output will exceed 100 billion cubic meters in 2020, he said. Shale gas, a clean and high-efficiency energy resource, is produced from shale through a complicated process called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking". Currently, China has no commercial shale gas production.