Work Resumes On Troubled Turkmenistan-China Pipeline

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By Eurasianet, via

Work has resumed in Tajikistan on construction work on a natural gas pipeline running from Turkmenistan to China.

Deputy Energy and Water Resources Minister Jamshed Shoimzoda said at a press conference on January 30 that funding for building work is being provided by China. Payments are being made on a regular basis, he said.

The 400-kilometer section will carry gas onward from Uzbekistan through an area by the Tajik town of Hisor, wind down to Vahdat, just outside the capital, and then run along a high valley floor toward the Kyrgyz border near the town of Jirgatol.

This pipeline has a designed capacity of 25-30 billion cubic meters of gas per year and will become the fourth and last planned strand of a network of routes carrying the fuel from Turkmenistan to China. Once completed, the pipeline would put China in a position to import up to around 65 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas annually.

The other three already operating Turkmenistan-China pipelines traverse far less geographically complicated terrain, in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Line D, as this section is known, enters China several hundred kilometers to the south and west of the entry points for Lines A, B and C

Officials say the project will generate $3 billion worth of investments in Tajikistan, although it is quite likely much of that money will end up in the pockets of Chinese contractors. Construction is being done jointly by CNPC daughter company Trans-Tajik Gas Pipeline Company together with state-owned gas transportation company Tajiktransgaz.

As things stand, Tajikistan will serve only as a transit nation and will not be eligible to tap the gas for its own needs. There has been no public talk yet of the amounts China will pay in transit fees.

In a related project, China will install a fiber-optic communication cable alongside the pipeline. Technicians say that the communications cable is needed for operations to do with management of the pipeline, but there are commercial provisions for Tajikistan to also buy data at low cost.

This pipeline has not had an easy history. Building work began in 2014 amid promises construction would be done within three years. But some media outlets last year reported that work had been suspended, leading them to speculate prematurely that the project would be frozen altogether.

Uzbekistan’s state-run Uzbekenergo, which is building that country’s own section, had announced that it was halting works for an indefinite period. Later, Kyrgyz media cited their own officials as saying that China had failed to farm out construction work on the project since 2015.

But last summer, Tajik Energy Minister Usmonali Usmonzoda noted at a press conference that construction was slated to resume imminently, adding that development of the project and organization of work had been protracted “for reasons not depending on the Tajik party.”

“Now the CNPC daughter company has started its work and it is addressing issues of project implementation in Tajikistan. The company is already engaged in delivering equipment. The bulk of the building work should be done by 2020,” he said.

The complications alluded to by Usmonzoda appear in part to have stemmed from insufficient eagerness on Beijing’s part to pursue a project that now looks less urgent that it seemed when it was first conceptualized.

Also, people with knowledge of the situation have told Eurasianet that Usmonzoda’s assessment of the delay was not entirely accurate as in fact Tajik officials have been bargaining hard with their Chinese partners to ensure the pipeline route follows the exact path of their choosing. Tajikistan’s mountainous terrain poses considerable difficulties for the construction of pipelines, since pumping gas along upward inclines requires challenging and costly technical solutions. According to sources familiar with the negotiations, Tajik officials have insisted on the technically more onerous route.

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