Turkmenistan rejects Russian doubts over gas reserves
* Turkmenistan tells Russia it will diversify gas exports
* Says "clumsy" Gazprom remarks "utterly tactless"
* Strongman Turkmen leader renames South Iolotan structure
* Turkmen "renaissance" hinges on new gas export routes
By Marat Gurt
ASHGABAT, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Turkmenistan has issued an angry response to Russian scepticism over the size of its natural gas reserves and reinforced its ambition to find new energy markets in Asia and Europe that will cut its dependence on the Kremlin.
BP data ranks natural gas reserves in Turkmenistan, a Central Asian nation of 5.4 million, as the world's fourth-largest. The country is seeking alternative export routes to meet its goal of more than tripling natural gas output by 2030.
Auditor Gaffney, Cline & Associates has ranked the South Iolotan natural gas field as the world's second-largest after South Pars in Iran, saying last month it could contain between 13.1 trillion and 21.2 trillion cubic metres.
The auditor also said the Minara and Yashlar deposits, previously thought to be separate fields, were actually part of the same giant structure, whose combined reserves could now total a maximum of 26.2 trillion cubic metres.
But Alexander Medvedev, deputy chief executive of Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom, called these estimates into question, saying that seismic studies conducted in Soviet days pointed to much smaller reserves.
"I believe that there are no grounds ... and no reason to make such statements that there is such a natural deposit with reserves of this scale," Medvedev said in an interview with Russia's Vesti-24 channel broadcast late on Friday.
Ashgabat, at odds with Moscow over its plans to export gas to Europe, issued a strongly worded statement at the weekend, expressing "bewilderment over the biased assessment by a professional" and calling Gazprom's remarks "utterly tactless".
Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry said in the statement that it viewed Medvedev's remarks as "yet another clumsy attempt to distort the real situation regarding Turkmenistan's resource potential, in particular its gas reserves".
"Turkmenistan will continue energy cooperation with all interested parties, based on mutual respect, equal partnership and the diversification of routes to supply its energy resources to world markets," the ministry said.
Turkmenistan President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov simultaneously issued a decree ordering that the entire South Iolotan structure be called "Galkynys" from now on.
"Galkynys" is the Turkmen word for "Renaissance" and has become the buzzword for Berdymukhamedov's reign, officially referred to as "The Epoch of New Renaissance and Great Transformations" in the desert nation .
Turkmenistan, one of the least developed Soviet republics when the Soviet Union collapsed two decades ago, is now among the world's fastest-growing economies and is pinning hopes of future prosperity on its huge hydrocarbon reserves.
It has expanded gas exports to next-door Iran and launched a pipeline to China. It has also won strong support from the European Union and the United States for plans to supply gas to a trans-Caspian pipeline that will run to Europe via Azerbaijan.
Baymurad Hojamuhamedov, the deputy prime minister with responsibility for the energy sector, told an energy conference last week that Turkmenistan's total hydrocarbon reserves as of Oct. 1, 2011, stood at 71.21 billion tonnes, versus 45.44 billion tonnes as of Jan. 1, 2006.
He said the new reserves included 53.01 billion tonnes of onshore resources and 18.20 billion tonnes offshore. The country's total proved reserves of natural gas were 25.2 tcm as of Oct. 1, he said.
Turkmenistan's annual natural gas output is estimated to have averaged around 70 billion cubic metres in the 20 years of independence from the Soviet Union. Turkmenistan aims to produce 230 bcm of the fuel annually by 2030. (Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Alison Birrane)