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Turkmenistan To Be No 3

A natural gas-supply line in the rural Ahal district, Turkmenistan.
A natural gas-supply line in the rural Ahal district, Turkmenistan.
Practically since the first day of independence, Turkmenistan has tied its future to the sale of its vast deposits of natural gas. The country's first president, Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niyazov, vowed in those early years that his country would become a second Kuwait. But ever since Turkmenistan's independence in 1991, no one could say with any assurance just how much gas the country has.

That changed somewhat when the energy consulting firm Gaffney, Cline and Associates was hired to assess the South Yolotan-Osman gas field. In late 2008 the British auditing firm announced the field was "world-class," one of the largest gas fields anywhere, with estimated proven reserves of 4 trillion cubic meters (tcm) and possibly up to 14 tcm. That would be enough to meet the EU's energy needs for about 50 years and put Turkmenistan solidly in the No. 4 position in terms of gas reserves by country, trailing only Russia, Iran, and Qatar.

Move over Qatar.

The Turkmen state website reported at the end of October that, according to the state company Turkmengeologia, the South Yolotan-Osman field actually has some 21 tcm of gas. Furthermore, Turkmenistan has many more gas fields, not as big as South Yolotan-Osman, but still several possessing in excess of 1 tcm.

Qatar's proven reserves are a bit more than 25 tcm, the bulk of it in the Pars Field of the Persian Gulf. Of course any figures provided by Turkmen state sources should be viewed with skepticism, if not outright suspicion -- this is a country that, in the late 1990s, reported record grain harvests for years, while all its neighbors were suffering from drought.

As for becoming a second Kuwait, that dream could still be a way off. While Turkmenistan certainly has a huge amount of gas, its means of export remain limited. Keep an eye out in November for a deal that could see 3-4 billion cubic meters of compressed natural gas from Turkmenistan make its way to Europe.

-- Bruce Pannier