Ashgabat hosted the annual Oil and Gas of Turkmenistan-2013 Conference to showcase Turkmenistan’s energy potential and prospects for cooperation before the international business community. Participants included representatives of Turkmenistan’s fuel and energy sector as well as some 100 companies from over 20 countries including Russia, China, the US, the UK, Germany, and others. Assuring participants of Turkmenistan’s vast gas riches, the Chairman of Turkmenistan’s State Concern Turkmengeologia, Atadurdy Berdymiyazov, said that, “the ongoing exploration work at Turkmenistan's largest oil field - Galkynysh- indicates the presence of verified unlimited gas reserves there.” His statement, however, seems exaggerated in light of London BP’s revision in June of its estimates of the proven reserves of natural gas in Turkmenistan from 24.3 tcm to 17.5 tcm.
While Turkmenistan indeed does have large reserves of natural gas, particularly in the Galkynysh field, nearly all of its estimated 13.1 trillion of gas reserves is slated to go solely to China. China has fast supplanted Russia as the main importer of gas from Turkmenistan, Central Asia's top producer, taking 20 billion cubic meters (bcm) last year via a pipeline commissioned in late 2009, according to official data from the Turkmen state. Turkmen gas exports to Russia, meanwhile, have shrunk by three quarters to a level of only 10 bcm per year in the past few years. It also sells small amounts to Iran next door.
Europe continues to push for the construction of the Trans-Caspian pipeline across the bottom of the Caspian Sea as a means of receiving Turkmen gas. At the Oil and Gas Conference, the European Union's Charge d'Affaires and interim representative in Turkmenistan, Denis Daniilidis said, “the Trans-Caspian pipeline is principal and the European Union (EU) believes there are now the most favorable conditions for reaching agreements and beginning construction." According to Daniilidis, the EU and Turkmenistan are in the final stage of negotiations and the EU, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan will sign an agreement on related environmental issues this year. The Trans-Caspian pipeline project is part of the EU-sponsored Southern Corridor that would deliver natural gas from Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Middle East to Europe while easing Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.
At the same time, Russia and Iran oppose the construction of any pipeline across the Caspian Sea, citing the unresolved status of the Sea and maritime borders, as well as environmental issues. “The Trans-Caspian gas pipeline can lead to a disaster in the Caspian Sea,” said Ambassador-at-Large of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Igor Bratchikov, in his interview with Russia’s RIA Novosti on November 22. “Turning a blind eye to this imposing, almost presumptuous, behavior of our European colleagues who try to connect Turkmenbashi and Baku with the gas pipeline, which is an disruption of the internal issues of the Caspian region, and disregarding environmental factors, would be reckless and disastrous,” he added.
Turkmenistan would be the supplier of natural gas for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline (TAPI) project, first proposed in the mid-1990s. At the conference in Ashgabat, gas companies from the four countries inched, yet again, toward a deal: the State Concern Turkmengaz, the Afghan Gas Corporation, the Interstate Gas Systems (Private) Limited (Pakistan), Gail Limited (India), and the Asian Development Bank signed a Transaction Advisory Service Agreement on TAPI. Some analysts, however, caution that despite US support for TAPI going back as far as the 1990s, the project will not likely be realized anytime soon, as the problems around its construction – foremost, the instability of the region – remain.
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