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Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline

The Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline (Turkmen: Transhazar turbaly geçiriji) is a proposed submarine pipeline between Türkmenbaşy in Turkmenistan, and Baku in Azerbaijan. By some proposals it will also include connection between Tengiz Field in Kazakhstan, and Türkmenbaşy. The aim of the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline project is the transportation of natural gas from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to central Europe, circumventing both Russia and Iran.

Description of pipeline

The planned capacity of the pipeline is 30 billion cubic meter (bcm) of natural gas per annum, and the estimated cost will be around US$ 5 billion. In Baku it will be connected with the South Caucasus Pipeline (Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipeline), and through this with the planned Nabucco Pipeline (Turkey-Bulgaria-Romania-Hungary-Austria pipeline). The feasibility study of the pipeline will be carried out by Granherne, a subsidiary of KBR. However, it is unlikely that the project will go beyond the planning stages in the near future.

History

End of 1990s

The project of natural gas import from Turkmenistan through the submarine pipeline was suggested in 1996 by the United States. In February 1999, the Turkmen government entered into an agreement with General Electric and Bechtel Group for a feasibility study on the proposed pipeline. In 1999, while attending the OSCE meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan signed a number of agreements on the construction of pipelines. However, because of Russia’s and Iran’s opposition to the project, the unresolved legal dispute of the Caspian Sea boundaries and the gas discovery on Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz field, the submarine pipeline project was shelved in the summer of 2000 and only the South Caucasus Pipeline project was developed.

2006-2007

In January 2006, as a result of the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute, interest in the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline project was rekindled. On 11 January 2006, Azerbaijan's prime-minister Artur Rasizade proposed to his Kazakhstan colleague Danial Ahmetov that Kazakhstan gas be exported through the South Caucasus Pipeline to Turkey and further on to the European market. In March 2006, the Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signaled his intention to rejoin possible negotiations on the pipeline. In May 2006, during his visit to Kazakhstan, the European Commissioner for Energy Andris Piebalgs stated EU support for the construction of the Trans-Caspian pipeline. Vladimir Socor, however, had noted that the Ukrainian government seemed to prefer trilateral talks between Turkmenistan, Russia and Ukraine, not taking the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline into consideration. Azerbaijan's Industry and Energy Minister Natig Aliyev, while addressing an international energy conference in Baku, outlined the advantages of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline for diversifying supplies and restraining prices. On the other hand, Russia's Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko commented: "Existing technical, legal, environmental and other risks relating to the trans-Caspian project are so great that it would be impossible to find an investor. Unless this is a political project, and then it does not matter what would be inside the pipeline as long as it exists".

On 12 May 2007 Vladimir Putin of Russia, Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow of Turkmenistan signed an agreement providing for Central Asian gas to be exported to Europe through the reconstructed and expanded western branch of the Central Asia-Center gas pipeline system, thereby dealing a blow to the hopes that the Trans-Caspian Pipeline will materialise in the nearest future, although Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow said that the Trans-Caspian pipeline project was not cancelled. Ironically, on the same day the presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania met in Kraków to discuss plans for the energy routes bypassing Russia, and the failure of the summit provoked a schadenfroh reaction from Moscow.

2008

On September 4, 2008, Mehti Safari, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, told journalists that Tehran opposes the construction of any undersea pipelines in the Caspian. This greatly jeopardizes the completion of the Trans-Caspian Gas pipeline, according to regional expert Paul Goble.

Critics

The project is heavily criticized by Russia and Iran, current export countries of Turkmen gas. Alexander Golovin, special envoy on Caspian issues, has stated that a major gas pipeline would pose a serious, dangerous risk to the prosperity of the entire region. According to the Russian Natural Resources Ministry, any gas or oil pipelines across the floor of the Caspian Sea would be environmentally unacceptable. Russia has also taken the legal position that a potential pipeline project, regardless of the route it takes on the seabed, would require the consent of all five Caspian littoral states in order to proceed. Iran has pointed out that treaties signed by Iran and the Soviet Union in 1921 and 1940 are still in force and that any action taken without the consent of all the littoral states will be considered illegal. As a reaction to the 1999 plans for a Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, in 2001 and 2002 Russia and Iran collaborated in calls for a Central Asian gas cartel. There was also some Western concern that closer collaboration between Georgia and Azerbaijan would leave Armenia isolated and tempted to strengthen ties with Russia and Iran. In recent years however, ties between Armenia and Russia have been strained, sidelining concerns.

See also

References

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