China sits on top of the largest technically recoverable reserves of shale gas in the world, according to the United States Energy Information Administration, and the government has set ambitious goals for expanding production in the years ahead.

There are many reasons. In addition to energy independence, the increased use of natural gas could help China meet its international commitments to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change. The transition to gas has already helped reduce pollution — at least in the northeast, where the authorities have phased out the use of coal to heat homes.

China’s hopes to replicate the American fracking boom, however, have hit significant stumbling blocks. Shale deposits tend to be deeper here — 3.5 kilometers in Rong County, or more than two miles down. That makes them more expensive to tap. The process also requires a lot of water, which is scarce in some regions.

Perhaps most importantly, China is much more densely populated, and many of its best shale deposits are in crowded places. Those include Sichuan, which has a population of more than 80 million. Since reserves were discovered there in 2009, scores of fracking sites have appeared — with virtually no public input, given the authoritarian nature of the government.

The 15 platforms in Rong County have 39 separate wells being drilled or already in operation. They have appeared within a 10-kilometer circle around the county’s main town, surrounded by fencing and filled with trucks and equipment.

Because of the heavy equipment involved, the roads to the sites are rutted and, when it rains, nearly impassable because of mud. Long black tubes extend across once scenic valleys and terraced fields. As in other places, Rong County residents say they noticed an increase in tremors and quakes after production began.

The latest appeared to inflame discontent that had long been simmering.

A video of the protest outside the government building was first published by Radio Free Asia. Local residents also voiced complaints on Weibo, a social media site like Twitter. “What on earth do you want from us?” one woman wrote. “Will you take the matter seriously only when there’s loss of life?”