Trans-Caspian Pipeline Politics

Via The Oil and Glory, an interesting look at the continued “pipeline politics” surrounding the Nabucco project and the entire trans-Caspian region.  As the article notes:

“…On one hand, Turkmenistan is in the catbird seat. Exxon, Chevron, BP and ConocoPhillips are salivating over the country’s onshore natural gas fields, in particular South Yolotan-Osman, the fifth-largest natural gas field in the world. It’s fawned over by the U.S., in particular Richard Morningstar, the special U.S. czar for Eurasian energy.

Yet all is not well in Ashgabad. Four months ago, there was an explosion at a natural gas line connecting the country to Russia, effectively Turkmenistan’s sole natural gas customer. Since then, the line has been fixed, yet the natural gas flow has failed to resume. Why? The global financial crisis. Natural gas demand in Europe — which had been buying up the Turkmen gas through Russia’s good offices — has plummeted. So have prices. Moscow has told the Turkmen that it wants to renegotiate the volume-and-dollar terms for the gas. The Turkmen have protested that a contract is a contract — a favorite expression that the Turkmen perhaps have learned from Western oilmen over the years — and so the flow remains halted. With it, Turkmenistan is losing an estimated $1 billion a month in revenue, or about $4 billion to date. That’s a lot for a place like Turkmenistan.

There’s another problem. It’s the pipeline politics in which Turkmenistan is a player, voluntarily or not, by dint of its location in great game territory.

Since the mid-1990s, Washington has pressed Turkmenistan to agree to an extension of the region’s new East-West natural gas network that would connect the country with Azerbaijan, and onward with Europe. The rationale was that, in the same way that Azerbaijan and Georgia have ostensibly won some political breathing space from Russia because of the construction of the Baku-Ceyhan oil line, Central Asia and in particular Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan would benefit through the proposed trans-Caspian natural gas line.

Demands for bribes, Russian protests, war in Afghanistan, and gaffes of various sorts have confounded the trans-Caspian. But now it turns out that events may have wholly overtaken the linkup of Central Asia to the balleyhooed East-West Corridor in any case.

First, in its latest iteration, the trans-Caspian was ultimately supposed to feed Nabucco, a natural gas pipeline to Europe, which has ended up at the butt end of continued utility bill spats between Russia and Ukraine. But now it seems that Europe may very well become awash in natural gas from shale deposits within Europe itself, and liquified natural gas shipments from Qatar and elsewhere. In other words, the need for Nabucco — and natural gas supplies all the way from Central Asia — has diminished.

But what of Turkmenistan’s gas? In terms of Russia’s rivals, it turns out that the Chinese have gotten there first. I personally thought the notion was far-fetched, but the Chinese are actually on the verge of finishing the first phase of the Turkmen-China natural gas pipeline, which looks like it will begin flowing by the beginning of next year. Since South Yolotan-Osman are situated in far eastern Turkmenistan, even if one of the western Big Oil companies gets a piece of these fields — still only a remote possibility — they will ship east, not west.

In other words, there appears to be little reason for the U.S. to focus on the trans-Caspian any longer, either, except for its own, parochial sake, and not for any larger policy reason, such as how Baku-Ceyhan broke Russia’s monopoly over energy transport in the Caucasus.

We’ll keep hearing about these lines. And we’ll write about them in this space. But their time has passed.

As for Turkmenistan — it will find its own way.”

This entry was posted on Friday, July 31st, 2009 at 5:32 am and is filed under 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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