The Changing State of Turkmen Gas Exports

As the Financial Times has noted, while all the world watched Copenhagen, a rather more ultimately significant event took place in Turkmenistan.

. . . as all eyes were set on Copenhagen, a 4,350-mile gas pipeline was opened by Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, in a tectonic shift that western eyes can ill-afford to ignore. The pipeline starts at the Samandepe gas field in Turkmenistan, crosses Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and ends in north-west China. With little publicity and at the turn of a wheel, Russia’s post-Soviet dominance of gas export routes from central Asia has been undermined. Likewise, the European Union’s chances of winning Turkmen supplies for its Nabucco pipeline project now seem severely diminished.

The new route solves a problem for both parties. China needed a reliable source of natural gas, with pipelines being better than tankers, and Turkmenistan needed a customer who would not be as predatory and fickle as Russia has been. Both are thus satisfied.

The Turkmenistan to China pipeline

Russia is trying to suggest that the change is of little moment, however the potential loss in revenue from the gas that it would transport from Turkmenistan to Western Europe (with a considerable increase in price) cannot but cause them a little worry, since that supply significantly supplemented what they were making available themselves. However the Uzbek’s are also in line to send any additional supplies they have through the same pipeline (since it crosses their territory). And the President of Kazakhstan was also at the opening of the pipeline. And they are just another link in the chain that China is building under the Russian border.

All four Presidents (China, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan) joined in turning the ceremonial wheel that inaugurated the pipeline. There are actually two parallel pipelines being put into place. The first is now working, while the second is expected to start delivering gas next year. The pipeline ties into natural gas pipelines that were installed to the Chinese border earlier, and tie into the existing Chinese network.

New gas pipeline being laid in China this year.

UPDATE. I have added a comment from the Moscow Times which tries to put a different "Russian" slant to the story.

Uzbekistan has more than 171 oil and gas fields, of which 52 are natural gas fields, with an estimated reserve of some 66 tcf. It has been producing around 2 tcf per year, with about 0.5 tcf being exported. It is considered to be the eighth largest producer in the world. Historically exports from the country (as with Turkmen gas) has been delivered to Russia. There has been little interest in joining the Nabucco pipeline, though with the advent of the Chinese pipeline they consider that they can increase exports by perhaps 25%, perhaps making up some of the shortfall to Russia from Turkmenistan with their own supply.

And apropos an earlier post where I mentioned dredging the Amu Darya river, which runs along the border, the two countries are seeking to collaborate more on hydro-technical matters.

Since becoming independent, Uzbekistan has increased its natural gas production by over 30%, from 1.51 Tcf in 1992 to 1.99 Tcf in 2000. According to preliminary 2001 data, Uzbek natural gas production increased to 2.03 Tcf for the year. However, Uzbekistan's natural gas fields were heavily exploited in the 1960's and 1970's by the Soviet Union, and as a result several older fields, such as Uchkyr and Yangikazgan, are beginning to decline in production. In order to offset those declines, Uzbekistan is speeding up development at existing fields, such as Garbi and Shurtan, as well as developing new fields and exploring for new reserves. The Shurtan field, which began producing in 1980 and is the second biggest in the country after Gazli, accounted for approximately 36% of Uzbekistan's total natural gas output in 2000.

Shurtan is located some 215 miles southwest of Tashkent, and is now the site of a major gas chemical complex.

Production and domestic consumption of natural gas in Uzbekistan

It is interesting to note that the Ukbeks have not been averse, in the past, to a little profit from their gas.

. . . the Uzbeks charge Kyrgyzstan $240 per 1,000 cubic meters of natural gas, while only charging Kazakhstan $84 for the same amount.

Kazakstan has thus had some problems with its neighbor:

The two branches of the Central Asia Centre (CAC) gas pipeline, the main gas export pipeline from Central Asia, meet in the south-western Kazakh city of Beyneu before crossing into Russia at Alexandrov Gay and feeding into the Russian pipeline system. Therefore, Kazakhstan is a major transit route for gas from Turkmenistan to Russia and on to other FSU markets.

Southern Kazakhstan receives its gas needs from Uzbekistan via the Tashkent-Bishkek-Almaty pipeline. In 2008 Uzbekistan will supply a small amount of gas to Kazakhstan's southern regions, including the area around Almaty, for $100/1,000 CM, a price unchanged from 2007. This pipeline snakes through Uzbekistan before reaching Shymkent, crosses Kyrgyzstan, and terminates in Almaty. Dependence on imported gas for its southern regions has at times been problematic since erratic pricing and supplies from Uzbekistan, combined with illegal tapping of the pipeline by Kyrgyzstan, have resulted in significant supply disruptions to Almaty in the middle of the heating season.

It is anticipated that the pipeline to China will deliver about a quarter of its 40 bcm volume to Kazakhstan, where it will be sent down south. This will offset the 8 bcm that the Kazakhs have sent to Russia. But it is also hoped that the pipeline will be connected to the Kazakh fields which are up near the Caspian.

Meanwhile the Russian deals to restart gas supplies from Turkmenistan, which have floundered since the “accidental” blowing up of a pipeline last April, have not yet reached the point where gas is anywhere close to starting to flow. And while President Medvedev is supposed to be visiting Ashgabat again before the end of the year, no final agreement is yet in place. The Turkmen are trying to reassure the Russians that there is no cause for alarm.

And in Turkmenistan, they still have enough natural gas available that a well that collapsed at Darvaza, and caught fire, is still a burning pit in the desert some 30 to 40 years later.

Darvaza – The gate to hell (photo N Griener Google Earth at 40 deg 10’56” N, 58 deg 24’27” E)

UPDATE: The Moscow Times, in reporting the story,

In the current plan for the gas balance from 2010 to 2012, Gazprom aims at reducing the annual import from Turkmenistan to 10.5 billion cubic meters, while the target figure in the 2009-11 plan was to increase the intake from 42 billion to 50 billion cubic meters. China has come to the rescue in a desperate situation where Turkmenistan stood to lose about a quarter of its gross domestic product, despite the fact that it increased volumes to Iran at agreed-upon low prices. The main issue for Gazprom was actually to ensure that the redundant gas would not find a channel to the European market, so blocking the plans for a trans-Caspian pipeline has been a high-priority goal for Russia’s foreign policy.

The only problem with that story is the chronology of the actual events.

Just look at the map up top. Surprise, surprise! What a coincidence that there is a proposed gas pipeline running the length of Afghanistan right through Helmand and Kandahar provinces where British troops are fighting a grueling land battle - four killed in the last four days. But, of course this can only be a coincidence. Our lads are really out there to kick Al Quaeda's butt.

I think I am too cynical for my 34 years. Or am I?

I was just looking at this article about the Afgan war:

Although Afghanistan is not a fossil-fuel giant like Iraq, its geographical position is consequential for the world’s energy order. There exist valuable deposits of oil and natural gas in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, all of which either border or are in close proximity to Afghanistan.

As of April 2008, the U.S. brokered a deal between India and Turkmenistan over Caspian resources. The Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, if successfully negotiated and constructed, will allow Turkmenistan’s natural gas to flow via pipeline through Afghanistan and Pakistan and into India by 2015. Such a possibility explains the intensity of geopolitics in the region. The deal isolates Iran and its ability to market its gas abroad.

In what has been dubbed the “Af-Pak war,” the state of Pakistan is now intricately involved in U.S. Overseas Contingency Operations. The Pentagon is surely eyeing Balochistan, the southern-most state of Pakistan, which is rich in natural resources and contains three Arabian seaports. As reported by Jeremy Scahill at The Nation magazine, Xe Services, the company formerly known as Blackwater, has been actively assassinating targets in Karachi, a port city just east of Balochistan. Ensuring that government officials of these vital seaports are pro-Western will be vital for future pipeline and shipping agreements.

In order for all of the fighting to make sense, it seems likely there is some resource in the background.

Nope. Afghanistan and Pakistan are too volatile.

BTW, India and Iran have been talking about building a gas pipeline for ages. Pakistan is too unreliable for that to happen ... so, what would change now ?

As of April 2008, the U.S. brokered a deal between India and Turkmenistan over Caspian resources.

I see some MOUs signed between India & Turkmenistan - chances of US brokering that deal is almost nil. India doesn't like western powers as brokers - a colonial lesson not forgotten. Infact, during the recent MOU signing Tuekmenistan president told India to work on the Iran pipeline first since that will be faster !!

President Berdimuhamedov indicated that India should tap its gas resources through Iran as it can be a good alternative without waiting for the much awaited TAPI gas pipeline project (Tuekmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India). Krishna accepted the idea and promised to work on it more seriously.India gives high priority to the gas pipeline to meet its energy requirements and is keen to have such ties with Turkmenistan. (ANI)

I've to say most "expert" commentary I see on Afghanistan is written by people who have little idea about the geo-politics of that area.

Sheer coincidence. We're over there to spread democracy and freedom and plant fowers. Poppies, I think.

Greer described it well in his latest post: "Afghanistan, where empires go to die..."

Very nicely put. Thing is we British have already been to Afghanistan and got creamed. Then the Ruskies. Even Mr A Great found out what it was like to loose there.

I always have and always will give our troops my full support and wish them well. But they should NOT be there in the first place. Send the f@cking politicos instead. Let them give up their expense accounts and pick up a rifle. Do you know that out of the 600+ British MPs only 12 have seen active service in uniform. Tells a tale doesn't it.

"Afghanistan, where empires go to die..."

I don't think Greer coined that phrase. It's been around for at least a thousand years in one form or another. Maybe two thousand.

Google Pepe Escobar and find some of his articles on Pipelinestan. Also there was an old BBC documentary called the Power of Nightmares on Al Qaeda. And of course there is David Ray Griffin's many books on 9-11, Bin LAden and so forth. Alan Greenspan says in his recent memoirs that of course the Iraq was about oil, but that unfortunately it's politically inexpedient to say so (something like that). General John Abizaid also said it. It's not a secret. It's just not something that can be flaunted in the media for the hoi poloi, or for the world. We are the land(s) of justice and liberty for all.

I wrote a bit about that in a recent post over on Bit Tooth. Pakistan is rather short of gas and the pipeline you mention is one of their hopes of salvation. Unfortunately it can't be built in the time that still remains before forces start to pull back, so who will invest in it?

What makes you think the troops are pulling out? It's an investment in itself.

Maybe the next surge will be a Pakistani contingent. But given the number of interested parties, there is a real risk of declining returns all around. And then there's the empire mortality factor. Keeping up security at Pakistani LNG terminals will no doubt keep the costs high in this imperial supply chain. But then, when you can print your own money...

"Russia is trying to suggest that the change is of little moment, however the potential loss in revenue from the gas that it would transport from Turkmenistan to Western Europe (with a considerable increase in price) cannot but cause them a little worry, since that supply significantly supplemented what they were making available themselves."

Truly tin foil hat nonsense. You should actually do some research before making such statements. ALL of Turkmenistan's discount price exports via Russia went to Ukraine. This whole conspiracy theory drivel about Russia "losing" revenues is breathtakingly idiotic. The major change since 2008 is that Turkmenistan is supposed to get full "market" price for its gas and poor oppressed-by-Russia Ukraine is going to lose out on its gravy train. The onus is on you to demonstrate that Russia sold Turkmen gas to the EU "for profit", proof by assertion does not cut it.

In 2007 Ukraine imported 42 bcm from Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan exports for 2007 were 50 bcm with the other 8 bcm going to Iran. So there must be some magic gas that Russia was ripping off from Turkmenistan to sell to EU suckers.

There is no common border between Ukraine and Turkmenistan. The gas passes through Russia to get from one country to the other. There has been, until last year, a significant difference between the price that Russia paid Turkmenistan and that which it got from selling it to points West. (Which has been discussed in these pages over the years). Also after a quick check it appear that Ukraine gets about 36 bcm from Turkmenistan, about 22 bcm from Russia and about 19 bcm from its own wells. The difference between the price paid to Turkmenistan and that which Russia was getting was apparently part of the reason for the "accidental" pipe explosion last April. Those price differences have also, over the years, been discussed in these pages. (Generally with citations from the countries concerned).

Heading Out, your technical articles are much better than your political ones.

That burning pit reminded me of Mayskoye gas field. It is located in Mary Province of Turkmenistan. It was drilled in the seventies, but something went terribly wrong and drilling ended with a huge uncontrollable gas fountain. To mitigate the disaster, parallel well was drilled to the depth of 1720 meters and a 15 kt nuclear device was detonated there on April 11, 1972. The fountain dried up in a few months.

Fast forward to 2006, and Turkmens announce new huge gas field named Yolotan suspiciously close to old Mayskoye field. One may wonder, are these fields really separate? And who'll get the radioactive gas?


You have my undivided attention.Tell us some more about this runaway gas well and the atom bomb used to tame it.

I have never heard of this.Concievably the bomb going off could have been passed off as a test shot , as was once common place?

It was part of Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy program. There were several explosions for extinguishing large natural gas fountains (exact numbers vary) out of ~150 "industrial" explosions.

Industrial nuclear charges as seen in the Museum of Nuclear Weapons:

Thank you.

I had heard about the peaceful bomb programs of both the US and the soviets of course and knew some bombs were set of experimentally ostensibly to research peaceful uses but not nearly so many as 150.

The fact that the Soviets actually put five or six of them to practical use is new to me.

I strongly suspect that all the other peaceful use test shots were very carefully monitered and justified partly on the basis of weapons research.

I doubt 1-15 kt explosions were of any interest to weapons designers. When the researchers felt like blowing some experimental design, they went to a test range and did it. Not like someone tried to stop them, no need to do it in populated areas under disguise.

Most of the explosions were seismic surveys, for oil and gas exploration. As I understand, that was the most successful application of the technology. Canal digging was a failure. Underground gas storages are still "hot", may become useful later.

As to extinguishing of gas fountains: 1 in Turkmenistan, 2 in Uzbekistan, 1 in Ukraine (objective not achieved). Also in Ukraine, there was 0.3 kt explosion to alter the geology of coal mine, to make it safer for the miners. Objective achieved. Later, coal was extracted up to 70 meters from the chamber. No excess radioactivity detected.

Of ~150 peaceful explosion only 4 turned out "nasty" (contamination of the surface).

Curious what was learned in the Russian canal enterprise. The US was fiddling with the pilot program (Project Chariot) for a sea level Panama isthmus canal well into the 1960s. Likely very little nuclear test info was shared between the US and Russia in that era. Most Americans are unaware that we blew our biggest underground blast, about 5 megatons, in 1971 under Amchitka in the Aleutians. That blast was set off over a mile deep but the subsidence at the surface created a mile wide lake.

The problem with excavating explosions is that everything ends up in the atmosphere. As a consequence - surface contamination and international outcry.

In all, two short trenches were excavated. One in Perm Krai, here. Other within Semipalatinsk test range. Here's a picture of it, with 3D model and contamination zones.

Thanks, I certainly wasn't advocating nuke excavation, I was more curious as to the timing. It appears the Soviets were hard at it into the 1970s, the three 15KT underground nukes that blasted the Perm Krai ditch were detonated March 23, 1971. Project Chariot has been 'held in abeyance' in the US since 1962. I guess those Ruskies were out to prove they could do stuff that pansy assed democratic republics with free press couldn't manage. Of course we blasted our big one under Amchitka in November of 1971. Well it was a race, and neither competitor was willing to give ground, regardless of outcome.

Another tidbit mac: about 15 years ago or so an oil blew out and burned in one of the Stans. They could actually see the smoke from the Shuttle. The gov't didn't want to hire professional blow specialists. So they sent a gov't tank out and it kept lobing shells into it. Don't remember the details but it's safe to bet the technique didn't work well. I think the well eventually bridged over naturally.

Hi Rockman,

Maybe they can try one of the new style bunker buster bombs on another such blow out some day soon.
I hear they are mid to high six figure price each but that might be cheap compared to the alternatives.

Interesting, I hadn't heard that about this use of nuclear devices. (Though familiar with Gas Buggy etc)

Still trying to decide whether you considered this to be a political or a technical article - grin.

Compliments of the Season, and I hope you have a Prosperous New Year.

As usual, it's hard to know what actually happened, and what's actually been built. My skeptical take on this announcement is here: