Afghan gas pipeline a “very real project”

A LONG-delayed project for a natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan is still “a very real project … and very feasible,” Afghan President Hamid Karzai said recently during a visit to Paris. The 1,400-km line, costed at $3.3 billion, is designed to link the vast gas reserves of Turkmenistan with markets in Pakistan and India; however, the only way to open the South Asian market to Turkmenistan’s reserves, the world’s third largest, is across Afghanistan. Decades of instability there have kept the project on the drawing board.

Afghanistan, which held parliamentary elections last month, has finished a three-year programme for transition to democracy and is making progress in providing stability, Karzai said during his visit. Karzai said strong economic growth in India and Pakistan kept energy demand there high. “The pipeline is a very real project,” he told a conference at the French Institute of International relations. “Work is going on on it. Certain facts have to emerge on the quantity of gas that will be available and the years in which it will be available,” he said.

Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan signed an agreement in December, 2002, to build a pipeline that would run from the Dauletbad gas field in southern Turkmenistan to Herat in western Afghanistan and then Kandahar in the south. From there it would run to Multan in Pakistan, with one potential future spur leading to the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar, where a gas liquefaction plant could be built, and another crossing the Indian border and continuing to New Delhi.

Future gas demand in South Asia is projected to be strong enough to need imports via pipelines from both Iran and Turkmenistan, and possibly a third pipeline, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said last month. The ADB said reserves information from Turkmenistan showed a lower-than-expected gas deliverability there. Dauletabad had gross reserves of 1.4 trillion cubic metres (Tcum) of gas, out of proven country reserves of about 2.0Tcum. That would be enough to provide gas for the trans-Afghan pipeline for a few years, but after that gas from other fields would be needed to meet the pipeline project’s targets, it said.

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