Central Asia’s energy map faced serious revision this week, with BP recognising the possibility of huge new gas reserves in Turkmenistan, a country that has long been hankering for its resource potential to be better recognised.
The oil major said in its Statistical Review of World Energy 2012, published on Wednesday, that Turkmenistan had proven gas reserves of 24.3 trillion cubic metres as of the end of 2011, almost double the previous year’s appraisal of 13.4 tcm.
The former Soviet Republic now controls 11.7% of global gas reserves, compared to Russia’s 21.4%, the review said. The latest figures place Turkmenistan firmly in the global energy limelight, news which is bound to please the country’s leaders, as well as those with an interest in Turkmenistan as a gas exporter.
It will take time for this reappraisal to trickle through to energy bosses worldwide but, in time, Turkmenistan’s place on the map cannot go unacknowledged. Even if these latest estimates prove to be optimistic, Turkmenistan’s energy potential must be recognised for the foreseeable future, especially in light of developments in its relationship with China in recent weeks.
According to Turkmen television Turkmenistan’s state gas company Turkmengaz and China National Petroleum Corp. signed an agreement for China to receive annual supplies of up to 65 billion cubic metres of Turkmen gas. China earmarked its interest in Central Asia in 2009, having signed a 30-year deal to increase imports from the region.
Indeed, Turkmenistan’s pivotal position as a gas transit corridor between east and west could become highly significant. The country’s South Yolotan complex is now ranked the world’s second largest gas field after Iran’s South Pars, according to British auditor Gaffney, Cline & Associates, whose reserve estimates BP used.
If Chinese relations have been bolstered recently, exports in the other direction could prove trickier.
Russia has shown hostility towards plans for a Trans-Caspian link taking gas from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan to Europe. Indeed, energy relations between Moscow and Ashgabat have been tense since 2009, when Gazprom halted Turkmen gas imports after a pipeline blast disrupted flow. Russia previously bought 40-50 bcm of Turkmen gas.
This week’s news may not improve Russo-Turkmen relations either. In the past, Gazprom has been highly critical of estimates which promote South Yolotan, citing Soviet-era data as proof that such large reserves do not exist. With Russian President Vladimir Putin in China last week to try to ink a deal which could see Gazprom pumping up to 68 bcm per year to China, it may be that both Russia and Turkmenistan will be vying for the Asian country’s attention.