Books on Turkmenistan
Update No: 334 - (24/10/08)
Coming in from the cold
Turkmenistan used to have two claims to fame, actually one due more to infamy in
the shape of a ghastly dictator, in President Saparmurat Niyazov. He died in his
sleep in December, 2006, not greatly missed.
He has been succeeded by his doctor, some say dentist, a big improvement, who is
slowly opening up the country to the outer world.
The real claim to fame is that the country has immense gas reserves, a fact that
has been recently confirmed.
Gas reserves really are huge
A long-awaited study of a vast natural gas field confirms that it is the fifth
largest in the world. For the first time the country's status as a gas giant is
Gaffney Cline & Associates, an oil advisory firm, said that the South
Yolotan Osman field in the south-east of the country has gas reserves of between
4 trillion and 14 trillion metres in place. The upper figure is three times
annual EU consumption. The field could eventually yield 70bn cu m per year,
roughly doubling annual gas output, and putting Turkmenistan on the global
energy map in a big way.
Actually, Turkmenistan has long been on the radar screens of the oil majors and
gas consumers. But Niyazov's fickle and unpredictable ways infuriated them. In
effect he pursued an isolationist course, shunning investors, and tying his
country into a subaltern position to Russia as its only export route.
There were always fears that reserves were being overestimated and contracts
were being signed with all and sundry, that overcommitted its gas. Niyazov
always refused a full, independent audit of Turkmen energy reserves. His
successor, Kurbanguly Berdymuklhamedov, made it one of his first acts to
commission an audit by Gaffney Cline, only now delivered.
The news could hardly be better. Previous assessments have severely
underestimated gas deposits. The BP Statistical Review of World Energy, an
industry bible, estimates the whole country's reserves at 2.67 trillion cu m,
less than the lower figure for South Yolotan alone. Turkmen gas reserves could
be between two and a half to six times that figure. The country is a gas giant!
The new dispensation
The findings suggest that Turkmenistan will be able to honour contracts and
mightily boost its exports of gas. At the moment it sells nearly all to Russia,
about 50 bn cu m per year, most of which is sold on to Ukraine. After all
Russia, with one third of world gas reserves, at over 50 tr cu m, is not short
of the fuel.
Turkmenistan can now be confident that it can diversify its exports to China,
Turkey and the EU. China is currently building a pipeline from there which
should transport 30bn cu m per annum; Ashghabad has agreed to sell 10bn cu m per
year to Europe for a start. The EU is hopeful of a gas pipeline across the
Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan, which would enable Russia to be by-passed. India and
Pakistan have been looking at a scheme for many years to bring Turkmen gas
across Afghanistan and that country’s government is pro-active to enable it to
earn transit fees.
Many observers were doubtful about these ambitious plans of expansion. No
longer. The gas is there; it just needs the extra infrastructure, above all the
new pipelines, which in turn need the finance and the political will. And
everyone is delighted that they are no longer dealing with a nutter.