The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Shell petroleum company have agreed to assess the social impact of China’s West-East Pipeline project, the UN agency announced today.The assessment is intended to help maximize economic and social benefits in communities affected by the project and promote equitable development in areas adjoining the pipeline’s route in western China, according to a statement released by UNDP. There are also prospects that the gas can help reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by replacing coal for power generation.The planned pipeline, about 4,000 kilometres long, will bring gas from western China to Shanghai and the east, passing through eight provinces and autonomous regions.Under the agreement, UNDP will lead a consultation programme along the pipeline route that will carry out surveys and interviews with local people, community organizations and others affected by the project. “Infrastructure projects are very important for the development of a country, but the difficulty lies in how to strike the right balance between national and local interests,” said Kerstin Leitner, UNDP Resident Representative. “Ensuring that local communities truly benefit from this project is the challenge ahead.”The programme will rely on government organizations, academics and independent international social experts to carry out the assessment, to be completed by July. The findings and conclusions will be used by the partners in the pipeline and government authorities to formulate social investment and development projects.The study is one element of an overall environmental and social impact assessment being conducted by Shell China Exploration and Production Co. Ltd., the leader of the consortium currently in discussions with PetroChina over possible participation in the West-East Pipeline project.