The Race for Turkmenistan’s Reserves

While Kazakhstan gets most of the press, perhaps the most interesting country in Central Asia – from a strategic hydrocarbon reserve perspective – is Turkmenistan.  As this article notes, Turkmenistan’s vast natural gas stores are spurring a scramble between Russia, China, the U.S. and Europe for access to its reserves.

“…Executives from Chevron Corp., Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Total SA, BP PLC and its Russian venture TNK-BP have flocked to the capital of Ashgabad to meet Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the new president, who has reached out to the West in ways his predecessor never did.

They have been joined by a steady stream of U.S. officials keen to revive a plan to build a pipeline across the Caspian Sea that would ship Turkmen gas westward, bypassing Russia and loosening Moscow’s grip on Central Asia’s energy riches.

…So far, the race to open up Turkmenistan’s hydrocarbon reserves — the country is thought to hold one of the world’s most abundant stores of natural gas — is being won by Russia and China.In May, President Vladimir Putin became the first world leader to visit Mr. Berdymukhamedov. In a coup for Moscow, the two parties agreed to build a new gas pipeline around the Caspian Sea and northward to Russia, and to upgrade Soviet-era infrastructure in Central Asia. That would increase deliveries of Turkmen gas to Russia to 90 billion cubic meters a year, from 50 billion cubic meters a year now, Russian officials said.

The deal was a blow to the European Union, which has long sought to free Turkmenistan from Moscow’s grasp. There were fears in Brussels that the Russian deal could undermine the viability of the EU’s grandiose Nabucco pipeline project to bring gas from Central Asia and Iran to Turkey and Eastern Europe.

Yet Russia, too, has suffered setbacks. In July, Mr. Berdymukhamedov went to Beijing and endorsed a plan to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan delivering 30 billion cubic meters of gas a year to China. He also signed a landmark deal allowing China National Petroleum Corp. to drill for gas in one of Turkmenistan’s most promising fields, Bagtyyarlyk. Beijing hopes gas from there will fill the new pipeline.

The deal was bad news for Russia’s OAO Gazprom, which relies heavily on imports of Turkmen gas to offset declines at its own big fields in western Siberia and ensure it can meet its long-term export commitments to Europe.

…Still, the foreign energy companies keep coming. In July, Mr. Berdymukhamedov invited Chevron executives to discuss developing a big oil field, Serdar, in the Turkmen section of the Caspian Sea. Geologists have long known about the deposit, but Big Oil shied away from it because it was also claimed by Azerbaijan. With Niyazov’s death, observers say, there is hope the two countries will work out how to share Serdar, known as Kyapaz in Azerbaijan…”

This will be one race to watch closely in the months ahead.

This entry was posted on Sunday, September 16th, 2007 at 7:24 pm and is filed under China, China National Petroleum Corporation, Gazprom, Russia, Turkmenistan.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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