19 May 2007 - 09:28
  • News Code: 104931

A combination of East-West geopolitical rivalries and haggling between former Soviet republics is delaying the construction of a series of oil and gas pipelines that could help alleviate the world’s future energy supply concerns.

Energy experts say meeting the world’s increasing energy needs in the coming decades lies in building a dozen existing and planned pipelines capable of helping the movement of oil and gas from Central Asian countries to Europe and the United States.

That, in turn, has raised to prominence the role of the resource-rich Central Asian states adjacent to the Caspian Sea--Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.

But the debate over the routes the pipelines would take has gotten bogged down in the political ambitions of the US and Russia on the one hand and Turkey’s on the other, according to experts and politicians who attended the mid-April, annual Eurasia Media Forum here.

“From the perspective of meeting energy needs, the answer is export routes from Central Asia to the West,“ said John Robert, a leading energy expert with the Platts Energy Group in London. “The problem is to get that energy to European countries, there are two gateways--Russia and Turkey. One of them has to be opened.“

The US and Europe--which receive much of their energy supplies from Russia--have expressed concern that under Vladimir Putin’s presidency, Moscow is trying to dominate the world energy markets.

“The Russian route is pretty much closed right now because Moscow takes Central Asian countries’ resources for internal use and sells its own for a much higher price to the West,“ Roberts told an energy panel.

Russia needs to control exports from former Soviet republics because otherwise it would be forced to reform its own energy industry and rely on Western investments before it can meet internal demands, Roberts and others on the panel concurred.

Currently, Turkmenistan’s gas exports are under contract to Russia until 2009 and Kazakhstan has agreed to sell all its exports to Russia for the next five years. Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy company, has booked much of Uzbekistan’s transit pipelines for the next three years.

But Central Asian countries have been trying to carve out their own energy supply route independent of Moscow.

Kazakhstan officials have not shied away from saying they are considering other options to the West, bypassing Russia. So have officials of the other Central Asia countries.

One pipeline project envisions passage through Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to the Caspian Sea. Another is the 3,300 km “Nabucco“ gas pipeline which, much to the chagrin of Russia, would run from the border of Turkey and Georgia, with Iran joining later, to Bulgaria, Romania and then Austria.

“That presents Turkey with two options. Does it want to be part of the European energy security mechanism or continue to import two-thirds of its needs from Russia?“ asked Roberts.

Given Turkey’s strong desire to join the European Union, many energy experts bet on Turkey taking risks against Russia, or at least keeping its options open for as long as it can.

One factor to consider in the world’s energy calculations is the rising power and energy needs of Asian giants China and India. “Both countries have tremendous energy needs, given their populations and their expanding economies,“ Azmat Hayat Khan, director of the Area Study Centre at the University of Peshawar, Pakistan, told IPS.

While China is negotiating with Kazakhstan, India has been--at least in part--banking on the ’Peace Pipeline.’ The perceived 2,700 km gas pipeline would run from Iran through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India.

Khan said the ’Peace Pipeline’ is unlikely to materialize because it would run counter to the US strategic ambitions in the Middle East and Central Asia.

“The Americans do not want to do anything that would make the Iranians stronger,“ he said. “While Gazprom is increasing its activity, and the Chinese are securing their economic interests and the Europeans are ensuring they get their own supplies, the Americans feel they are losing the game and they do not have any good cards,“ he added.

 

PIN/ IPS.Com

News Code 104931

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