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Ashgabat eyes prospect of Turkmen gas supplies to Europe

By Dzhumaguly Annayev

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Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov takes part in the opening ceremony of the East-West pipeline at the Belek compressor station, 500km northwest of Ashgabat, December 23, 2015. The pipeline connects Turkmenistan's eastern gas fields to the Caspian Sea, potentially expanding Europe's energy security options. [Igor Sasin/AFP]

ASHGABAT -- World Bank officials say they are ready to work with Turkmenistan on the supply of natural gas to Europe, a long-desired project for Ashgabat.

World Bank Senior Oil and Gas Expert Lex Huurdeman discussed a potential gas pipeline along the bottom of the Caspian Sea during the 24th "Oil and Gas of Turkmenistan - 2019" conference in Ashgabat October 22.

The annual conference brought together 280 participants from large financial institutions, as well as from oil and gas companies representing 60 countries, to discuss the development of the world oil and gas market.

Turkmenistan ranks fourth in the world in gas reserves and has all the prerequisites for diversifying its gas deliveries to world markets, Huurdeman noted.

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Turkmenistan is planning to pipe natural gas directly to Europe via the Caspian Sea, bypassing the Russian pipeline system. [Google Earth]

The prerequisites include the recently adopted Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea and the expected completion of the Southern Gas Corridor in 2020, he said.

Work on the last segment of the Southern Gas Corridor, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), is 89.8% complete, according to the TAP website.

"Under these conditions, the supply of Turkmen gas to the EU [European Union] is coming closer to reality," he said.

"The statement of the World Bank's senior oil and gas expert evoked joyful emotions," said Aganyyaz Akmyradov, a representative of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Turkmenistan, which co-organised the forum.

"Essentially, Huurdeman's words clear the way to financing the project," he said.

Other barriers that had hindered the implementation of the project have recently faded away, said Akmradov, referring to the adoption of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea by the five littoral countries and to the signing of other legal documents.

"Today, it is a matter of money, and Mr. Huurdeman made it clear that the World Bank is ready to discuss with Turkmenistan this issue that matters to us," he said.

Turkmenistan has done much to speed up the start of gas supplies to Europe.

In particular, Turkmenistan in 2015 completed the 733km-long East-West gas pipeline on its territory -- from the gas fields in the southeast of the country to the Caspian coast to feed the proposed Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline.

On October 25 in Baku at the 18th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, the presidents of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan discussed fuel and energy co-operation, taking into account their countries' resource and transport potential.

Supporters and detractors

The World Bank has joined the ranks of supporters of the idea of delivering Turkmen gas directly to Europe, said an employee of the office of Yagshigeldy Kakayev, an adviser to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov on oil and gas issues. The employee requested anonymity.

"Everyone can see the benefits of laying a 300km-long gas pipeline along the bottom of the Caspian Sea," he said, adding that the pipeline would feed the Southern Gas Corridor.

The underwater gas pipeline will allow Turkmenistan to annually send tens of billions of cubic metres of gas to European markets, bypassing the Russian Gazprom pipeline system and freeing gas-importing countries from the Kremlin's whims.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime has periodically cut off deliveries of natural gas in the winter to coerce countries like Ukraine.

Some countries, in particular Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, could make money on transit fees, while others such as countries in southern Europe could benefit from having an alternative gas supplier, said the official.

However, Russia and Iran both oppose the construction of the gas pipeline under the Caspian Sea.

Moscow's position on the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project "remains unchanged," said Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Mikhail Bocharnikov in a July 4 interview with the Azerbaijani newspaper Caspian Energy.

He cited "international agreements on environmental protection and preservation".

Meanwhile, "Iran is opposed to its [the pipeline's] construction," said Behrouz Namdari, an official who represented the National Iranian Gas Co. at the first Caspian Economic Forum (CEF) on August 12 in Avaza, Turkmenistan.

Tehran and Moscow have found different excuses for opposing the project over the past years, a representative of Turkmengaz, Turkmenistan's state-owned gas firm, said in September. The official used the pseudonym of Amanmyrat Bekiyev.

"They [Russia and Iran] claim the pipeline might harm the environment in the Caspian Sea basin, but this looks ridiculous, to say the least, while Russia is building pipelines along the bottom of the Black and Baltic seas," said Akmyradov, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Turkmenistan representative.

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Of course, this malicious Russia needs no competitors

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