Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov just concluded a highly touted state visit to Uzbekistan, and energy was -- as always -- one of the main topics of discussion.
Berdymukhammedov and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev discussed Uzbekistan’s participation in the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline and joint work at the offshore hydrocarbon fields in Turkmenistan’s sector of the Caspian Sea.
Though Mirziyoev expressed Uzbekistan’s interest in them, it is unlikely either of these projects will move forward in the near future.
Surprisingly, in judging from official reports about their meetings, the two leaders did not discuss the so-called Line D of the Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline network -- which is very strange since Line D is Turkmenistan’s surest option for boosting its gas exports in the near future.
The omission could signal that something is seriously wrong.
TAPI is a great idea at the wrong time.
Shipping 33 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas annually (14 bcm each for Pakistan and India, and 5 bcm for Afghanistan) would benefit all countries involved, but TAPI’s route invariably takes it through militant-infested territory in Afghanistan.
The Taliban has said it will guarantee the safety of the project, as it would benefit the Afghan people, but its completion would boost support among the population for the government, something the extremist militant group is fiercely opposed to.
Then there is the problem of finances.
The state company Turkmengaz is managing the project, despite having no experience operating outside Turkmenistan, and is currently about $8 billion short of the estimated $10 billion needed.
And of that remaining $2 billion, the four countries involved in the project -- Turkmenistan, Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan -- are expected to each pitch in $500 million.
All of that makes it difficult to imagine TAPI will be completed in the coming years.
As for the offshore Caspian fields, there are questions about the necessary expertise and funding for the project from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
But Line D is different.
The gas fields are ready, the route is agreed upon, the funding (by the Chinese) is there, it runs through stable territories, part of it is already built, and it would ship a whopping 30 bcm of Turkmen gas per year, bringing in much needed revenue to Turkmen's empty coffers.
The only publicized obstacle to construction of Line D is a decision by the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and Uzbekneftegaz at the start of March 2017 to halt work on Line D in Uzbekistan.
The pipeline’s route also passes through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the only one of the four lines (A, B, and C) of the Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline network that runs through those countries.
Tajik Deputy Energy Minister Jamshed Shoimzoda said at the end of January that construction of the Tajik section of Line D had begun.
One month earlier, Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for Industry, Energy, and Mining said work would start on Kyrgyzstan’s section of Line D in 2019. Both countries are working with CNPC subsidiaries.
The only thing left was for Berdymukhammedov and Mirziyoev to announce that the project would resume in Uzbekistan and -- by sometime around 2022 -- the first Turkmen gas would be pumped into Line D.
But no reports -- official or otherwise -- from their meetings in Tashkent and Urgench mention Line D at all, in what surely is a worrisome development.