Turkmenistan is a small nation with only about 5 million citizens, yet it could be the solution to energy problems affecting hundreds of millions of people. Despite the fact that the Central Asian nation has the world’s fourth largest natural gas reserves, Turkmenistan ranks twelfth in the world in natural gas production. Turkmenistan plans to fill this gap between reserves and production with multiple plans to export its natural gas abroad.
As a developing nation, China is attempting to reduce its dependence on coal by incorporating alternative energy sources such as natural gas. China is already connected to Turkmen natural gas via the China-Central Asia pipeline. Although China currently receives a bulk of its natural gas from Turkmenistan, the country is still pouring billions of dollars into the Turkmen energy sector. Most of this this money is going into the development of the Galkynysh gas field by the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC), which is the only foreign company with direct access to Turkmen gas fields. At this time, the Galkynysh gas field is the second largest gas field in the world. In addition to improving the energy sector in Turkmenistan, China is also expanding the pipeline that currently connects the two nations, by adding a fourth branch to the pipeline that will lead directly to Shanghai. China is planning to triple Turkmen gas imports by 2020.
A deal was struck to build the Trans-Afghanistan pipeline (TAPI) in 2010, but a variety of problems have slowed progress on the project. Turkmenistan recently announced that construction on the TAPI pipeline is expected to begin sometime in 2015. The TAPI pipeline will serve to provide much needed natural gas to India and Pakistan, while reducing Turkmenistan’s dependence on China. Afghanistan’s economy will also benefit from the transport fees it will receive from allowing the gas to pass through its land.
The most controversial potential project with Turkmen gas is the construction of a Trans-Caspian pipeline to provide natural gas to Europe. The European Union (EU) is currently dependent on Russia for its natural gas supply. Due to increased tensions between the EU and Russia, the EU is actively searching to diversify its natural gas supply. The controversy with this project stems from the fact that the pipeline would have to cross the Caspian Sea, which is bordered by Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, and Azerbaijan. For obvious reasons, Russia is strongly opposed to the creation of this pipeline and is claiming that no pipeline can be built across the sea unless all five bordering nations give consent. In the face of this controversy, the EU is still planning on moving forward with the project and recently finalized a study of the environmental effects of this project.