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Central Asia: Conference Reviews Caspian Energy

  • Bruce Pannier

New York, 12 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A conference on "New Developments in Caspian Energy and Infrastructure" has opened at Columbia University in New York City, sponsored by America's Unocal and Delta Corporation of Saudi Arabia. The conference is reviewing the status of the Caspian Sea and proposed routes for exporting the oil and gas wealth of the region to foreign markets.

The head of Russia's delegation to the conference, Sergei Panchikin, attended yesterday's first day of the conference saying his country is worried about unilateral decisions to begin exploiting oil fields of the Caspian in the absence of a clear definition as to legal ownership of sectors of the sea. Panchikin said such actions would inevitably lead to oil spills and the lack of agreement over ownership of these areas would impede efforts to combat the effects of such a disaster.

Further, he said, investors are reluctant to enter into Caspian oil ventures for fear of the sea's unclear status among the littoral states. Russia favors resolving the sea's legal status before extraction of resources begins.

Speaking about access for that oil to foreign markets, Panchikin cited studies by Transneft showing the best route for exporting oil and gas from the region is the Baku-Novorossiisk route. This conclusion is partially based upon from findings the AIOC conference held in Washington D.C. last month, that held that a new section of the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline could even be laid north of Chechnya, and still be much cheaper than the proposed Baku-Georgia-Jeyhan line to Turkey.

Gordon Feller the president of Integrated Strategies, said Russia's "Gazprom" oil company is preventing states such as Turkmenistan from exporting its oil and gas to foreign markets.

According to Feller, the visit of Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to Turkey next week and the deals expected to be signed will effectively undercut any efforts by Turkmenistan to find a route for its oil and gas. Any route carrying Turkmen oil or gas through Iran is complicated by U.S. policies against dealing with Tehran. That, Feller says, leaves Turkmenistan with two options for selling its oil and gas; to other CIS states or to Ukraine, and in either case there is little hope these countries could pay for supplies.

In Feller's opinion, the actions of Gazprom and the negative image of Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov as a dictator are keeping Turkmenistan's economy from prospering as it should given its hydrocarbon resources.

Turkmenistan does not have a representative at the conference though former Turkmen Oil and Gas Minister Nazar Suyunov is attending as a Russian representative.

The conference continues today.