The first thousand cubic meters of natural gas from Turkmenistan has been delivered to Iran through the Korpeje-Kurt Kui gas pipeline. The event marks the opening of the first-ever gas export route out of Turkmenistan that does not go to Russia. It is also the sole viable non-Russian route that Turkmenistan will be able to use in the near future. Russia has since March 1997 blocked the traditional route for the export of Turkmen gas to Europe. The war in Afghanistan is delaying the start of work on UNOCAL’s planned pipelines for Turkmen gas and oil via Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean.
The Korpeje-Kurt Kui pipeline, officially commissioned last December, has a planned throughput capacity of up to 10 billion cubic meters annually, and is supposed to handle 3 billion cubic meters in 1998. Construction of the 200-kilometer line has been financed largely through Iranian credits, reimbursable by Turkmenistan through deduction from the value of the gas delivered to Iran. Ashgabat is said to have already reimbursed one-third of the cost. The net revenue will accrue to Ashgabat in hard currency. Iran guarantees to buy specified amounts of Turkmen gas for a period of twenty-five years (Caspian Business Report, September 18).
The pipeline via Iran can handle only a fraction of Turkmenistan’s potential output from even the tapped deposits, let alone the untapped ones. This and other drawbacks–arising not least from increasingly close Russian-Iranian links–underscore the urgency of laying large-capacity trans-Caspian pipelines from Turkmenistan, as recommended by the U.S. government and companies.–VS
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