Turkmens begin gas pipeline rival to Iran’s

Turkmenistan’s leader has ordered construction of a $10 billion pipeline to Pakistani and India through Afghanistan to begin despite questions about the project, the Turkmen government says.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov ordered state gas monopoly Turkmengas and another company to begin building the Central Asian country’s stretch of the TAPI pipeline to the Afghan border, state media said Sunday.

The government expects the long-delayed gas link, stretching 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles), to become operational in three years with an annual capacity to deliver 33 billion cubic meters of gas.

Turkmengas leads the TAPI consortium named after the four countries and expects to be joined by Western companies at later stages.

Turkmenistan, which holds the world’s fourth largest natural gas reserves, sees the project vital to its bid to diversify gas exports. The country relies on 30 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas sold annually to China.

Other major importers are Russia which has cut purchases to 4 bcm this year from 40 bcm in 2008 and Iran which buys small volumes for consumption in its northern provinces near the Turkmen border.

Iran, however, figures prominently in the TAPI project because it is also pushing a rival pipeline which would take its gas to Pakistan and India without the need to cross more than 700 km across Afghanistan.

Insecurity in Afghanistan which is facing a resurgent militancy and the region’s complex geopolitics has forced Western giants such as Chevron, Exxon, BP and Total to refrain from committing to the TAPI.

Washington, however, supports the project while opposing the Iran plan, dubbed as the Peace Pipeline, even though it is more viable than the TAPI when both costs and security matters are factored.

India dropped out of the $7 billion gas pipeline from Iran under US pressure but a July nuclear accord with Tehran has prompted Indian leaders to push for its revival.

Pakistani officials have also said they were hopeful to revive the stalled project. They have said China would build their section of the pipeline – a 700 km stretch – to the Iranian border.

Iran completed the 900 km extension of the pipeline on its territory in 2013. The country’s ambassadors to Dhaka and Beijing have said Iran was also ready to talk extending the gas link to Bangladesh and China.

By Press TV