A British engineering firm will carry out a technical feasibility study for the proposed 1,820km, 56-inch diameter TAPI pipeline running from Turkmenistan's giant Galkynysh gas field, the world's second largest, all the way to India through Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“[TAPI] “will enable Turkmenistan to monetise a part of its vast natural gas reserves, by opening a southerly route to the energy-hungry markets of South Asia,” Peter O’ Sullivan, CEO of Penspen, said in a statement.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) awarded Penspen the contract and it in turn has brought in Netherlands-based engineering firm Royal Haskoning to undertake the environmental and social safeguards components of the study.
Turkmenistan boasts proved natural gas reserves of 17.5 trillion cubic meters, the fourth largest in the world, according to figures from BP's 2014 Statistical Review. Galkynysh alone stores at least 13.1 trillion trillion cm of natural gas, British auditor Gaffney, Cline & Associates estimates.
Since its discovery in 2006, the Turkmen government has strived to open new export routes for Galkynysh's future production to minimise the country's dependence on pipelines to Russia and thus break loose from Moscow's stanglehold. Traditionally, Turkmen gas has flown almost exclusively towards Russia, which buys it at discounted price and resells it to European customers. But the Kremlin abruptly cut Turkmen gas imports in 2009 because of weakening demand in Europe, jeopardising the country's public finances, heavily reliant on gas sales, and prompting president Gurbanguly Berdimukhammedov to speed up efforts to find new buyers. Since then, China quickly replaced Russia as the largest importer of Turkmen gas through a 1,833km pipeline expected to reach full capacity (55bn cm per annum) in 2015.
The TAPI project - which has been on the table of Turkmen authorities since the early 1990s, when oilmen from the US and Argentina tried to secure the support of the emerging Taliban movement in Afghanistan - would provide Turkmenistan with access to the huge south-eastern Asian markets. However, as soon as the Taliban seized power, it became clear that no financial institution would take the risk of financing a multi-billion pipeline running through Afghanistan.
After the global financial crisis, Berdimukhammedov revived TAPI and held roadshows to look for prospective consortium leads and financiers in London, New York and Singapore in 2012.
Penspen now expects to have the technical feasibility study ready in six months, following which the company will provide on-going support to ADB during the investor selection process, it said in a statement.
Yet securing the money needed for the project will remain difficult. Both ExxonMobil and Chevron pulled out of the race to lead the consortium that would raise the necessary financing for the project - total costs are expected to reach US$7.6bn - because of Ashagabat’s refusal to grant the two companies an equity stake in the pipeline. Total of France and Malaysiaís Petronas are now rumoured to be in the running for the post.
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