Royal Dutch/Shell Group has said that it plans to invest $400 million in China's largest offshore natural gas field, to make Europe's biggest oil company the leading foreign investor in the country's top two gas projects. Shell and the California based Unocal Corp. may buy twenty percent each in a $2 billion project run by CNOOC Ltd., China's dominant offshore oil producer, to develop the oil and gas fields of the Xihu Trough, located four hundred and fifty kilometers south east of Shanghai. CNOOC plans to pipe the gas to prosperous eastern provinces such as Zhejiang, said Fu Chengyu, CNOOC's chief operating officer. “We are interested in this project and are in the process of evaluating its prospects,” Martin Bradshaw, president of Shell Exploration & Production China, said in an interview. The Anglo-Dutch company plans to triple spending in the country to more than $5 billion by 2005 to tap an energy market that is predicted to double by 2020 to sixteen percent of the world total. Shell agreed in December to build China's biggest gas project, the 4,000-kilometer West to East pipeline controlled by CNOOC's rival PetroChina Co. “By being involved in both the Xihu Trough and West-East pipeline project, Shell will be in a very good position to control the gas market in northeastern China, selling to cities like Shanghai and Beijing,” said Eva Chu, an analyst with BNP Paribas Peregrine in Hong Kong. China's gas demand is expected to more than quadruple by 2010 to account for eight percent of the country's energy mix. CNOOC and China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. or Sinopec, will each hold thirty percent of the Xihu Trough project, CNOOC said. The Xihu Trough project would allow CNOOC and partners to supply the market in China's northeastern coastal provinces and cities, such as Zhejiang, Shanghai and Shandong, which have also been targeted by rival PetroChina Co., the country's biggest gas producer. PetroChina plans to supply the area with gas from the northwestern province of Xinjiang on the other side of the country and also enlisted Shell's help to bring the fuel to market. Shell agreed last year to take a forty five percent stake in the 46 billion yuan ($5.6 billion) West-East pipeline. Shell and PetroChina still have to agree on the details of the project, Bradshaw said. “We were told we have to sign the framework agreement by June for the project to begin on schedule,” he said. “We are still talking.” Shell has invested about $1.6 billion in China, half of it on finding and pumping oil. CNOOC may also control the gas markets in southeastern provinces like Guangdong and Fujian, Chu said. China National Offshore Oil Corp., CNOOC's parent, is building the country's first liquefied natural gas import terminal in Guangdong, the largest gas project in southeastern China. CNOOC also has its own gas reserves in the region, off the southern island of Hainan. BP, the world's third largest publicly traded oil company, beat Shell in a contest to buy a third stake in the LNG plant, which is expected to start operating in 2006. China National Offshore also signed an agreement with the Fujian provincial government last October to jointly develop gas projects, including a possible second LNG import terminal and a power plant.