Rome joins big game for Turkmen gas

Turkmenistan, Ashgabat, November 3 / Trend H. Hasanov /

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov will soon visit Rome after receiving an official invitation from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi ealrlier this year.

"We have something to offer each other given our economic potential," Berdimuhammedow said.

Paolo Scaronil, head of the Italian energy giant Eni, recently returned from Ashgabat where he attended the country's Independence Day celebrations. Upon his return, he said Turkmenistan will soon play a major role on the global energy arena due to its immense hydrocarbon potential.

Scaroni added that he is willing to contribute to Turkmenistan's development.

"We have all the necessary technical and operational opportunities," he said.

Eni is Italy's leading oil and gas company operating in 70 countries worldwide, including Russia, Norway and Algeria.

Eni entered the Turkmen market by acquiring assets of the British Burren Energy last year. The company can now extract oil in western Turkmenistan over a 200-square-kilometer area.

"The economy is connected with gas here, and the desire of a large player like Eni to join the gas sector is clear," a Turkmen economist told Trend on conditions of anonymity.

According to BP's most recent estimates, Turkmenistan ranks fourth in the world in terms of proven natural resources after Russia, Iran and Qatar.

Italy is the third highest natural gas consumer after the UK and Germany in the EU.

The European capitals, as a rule, are discussing the implementation of the Nabucco project.

Brussels hopes to launch the initiative over the next two years. Turkmen gas may be transported to Azerbaijan via the Caspian seabed to Turkey and European markets. Rome is thought to be a supporter of the South Stream project through the Black Sea, which will strengthen the Old World's energy dependence on Russia.

Eni is interested in this project with Gazprom on par. The company's top managers even insisted on doubling the capacity to over 60 billion cubic meters of gas.

Italy decided not to dispute the Kremlin's role on the energy market in the near future. The country meets a third of its energy needs owing to Russian gas.

As for Turkmenistan, Ashgabat is rapidly approaching its goal of becoming an independent player on the international energy market.

A gas pipeline to China will be put into operation in late 2009. Another branch will soon appear in Iran, working with the existing Turkmen network. Negotiations are also underway to restore gas transit through Russia. But Ashgabad has insisted that Moscow refuse the re-exporter role.

Ashgabat believes the era has ended when Moscow established the rules of the game in Central Asia by controlling the flow of energy via Soviet-era pipes.

"The progressive economies of Pakistan and India sooner or later will need additional volumes of gas," a Western diplomat told Trend while commenting on Eni's hope to transport Caspian resources to South Asia. "It is important to find an engine that will appear at the right time and in the right place." Scaroni named his company a natural candidate for the project.

But it is difficult for observers to press the project's implementation today, as the gas would be transported through Afghanistan. Tthe Taliban is sensitive due to the presidential elections, and the laying of a pipeline would further aggravate the militant group by strengthening the current regime via transit duties. The situation in Pakistan is also complicated by terrorist attacks.

On the other hand, an Iranian route is possible. But Tehran's enormous South Pars reserves are also still waiting for realization, and Gazprom is a shareholder in this energy source.

Offshore transportation of liquefied natural gas is another possibility. But this type of energy is still poorly developed in Turkmenistan. Huge amounts of time and investments are needed to move in this direction. At present, Turkmenistan's main task is to push the development of new fields and restore old projects.

For a long time, Ashgabat was rather optimistic about the construction of a gas pipeline to Pakistan and India. The Taliban's seasonal activity in Afghanistan intensified the belief that such a pipeline could be secured. However, the U.S. Unocal failed to implement such a project in the late 1990s. U.S military operations stopped these plans. The Asian Development Bank later tried to move the project forward by paying for a feasibility study.

Subsequently, India, joining the project, made a certain recovery in 2006. But it was evident that the initiatives were made by Islamabad and New Delhi. Ashgabat only took delegations of buyers to its deposit by demonstrating its export capacity. According to local forecasts, its export capacity will reach 200 billion cubic meters of gas with a total output worth $250 billion. 

Official Ashgabat is rather interested in Southeast Asia. Experts said the UN has supported Ashgabat's to prepare an international convention to provide the market with energy resources.

Berdimuhamedov stressed a few weeks ago that India may be a potential market in addition to Europe.

He said such a pipeline could bring jobs and foreign exchange earnings to Afghanistan and contribute to peace and stability in the neighboring country.

Earlier, Pakistan and Turkmenistan signed a protocol to accelerate the Trans-Afghan project. Congratulating new Pakistani Ambassador Tassaduk Hussain with his appointment in Ashgabat, Berdimuhamedov emphasized that the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline can be a guarantor of further economic growth in the region. Meanwhile, a suitable player needs to be be found for such an ambitious project.

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