* Turkmen leader says gets down to gas business with Europe
* Austria says Turkmen gas to feed Europe's rising demand
* East-West pipeline to Caspian being built at "quick pace"
By Marat Gurt
ASHGABAT, Oct 13 Turkmenistan, courted by Europe
as an alternative natural gas supplier able to cut its
dependence on Russia, announced on Thursday it was getting down
to business on building the Nabucco pipeline backed by the
Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, meeting his
counterpart from Austria, the future hub from where gas from the
Caspian region will flow deeper into Europe, was in an upbeat
"Today we get down to work on the contractual and legal
basis for supplying Turkmen energy to Europe," he said.
Berdymukhamedov enjoys virtually unlimited powers in his
desert country, where there is no opposition or imdependent
media, and his word is final.
"We are inclined to hold a constructive energy dialogue with
Europe and we invite Austria to participate in it in the most
active and effective way," he said after talks with Austria's
A reclusive Central Asian nation of 5.4 million,
Turkmenistan holds the world's fourth-largest natural gas
reserves and itself is seeking to diversify exports from its
Soviet-era master Russia to China, Iran and Europe.
Ashgabat plans to more than treble annual gas output to 230
billion cubic metres (bcm) by 2030, of which it would export 180
bcm. Gas from the South Iolotan field -- now estimated to be the
world's second-largest -- will provide much of this increase.
The Nabucco pipline project, strongly backed by the European
Union, plans to bring up to 31 bcm of gas annually from the
Caspian Sea region to an Austrian hub, bypassing Russia and
altering the balance of regional power supplies.
Turkmenistan had luck to discover new rich gas deposits,
while there is fast rising demand in Europe," Fischer said after
holding talks with Berdymukhamedov.
British auditor Gaffney, Cline & Associates (GCA) ranked on
Tuesday the South Iolotan gas field as the world's
second-largest and raised its reserve estimate, underpinning
Ashgabat's hopes to rival Moscow as a key energy supplier.
"Turkmenistan is an important supplier of natural gas, while
Europe is a reliable consumer. We must put this together on
mutually beneficial terms," Fischer said.
In recent years, Europe has experienced cuts in Russian gas
supplies during the winter due to Moscow's pricing rows with
transit nation Ukraine.
ALREADY A YEAR BEHIND?
Nabucco's Austrian shareholder OMV said on Tuesday
that the pipeline might only deliver its first gas in 2018, a
year later than expected, because supply talks with potential
suppliers -- Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan -- drag on.
"The Nabucco project is of priority significance for
Austria," Fischer said, adding that top OMV managers were part
of his delegation. "As far as I understood, you are optimistic
about it," he said to Berdymukhamedov.
Turkmenistan has started building a $2 billion, 1,000-km
(625-mile) East-West pipeline from South-Iolotan to the Caspian
to be able to feed the Nabucco project, Berdymukhamedov said,
adding that "contruction works are proceeding at a quick pace".
Britain's GCA said that the South Iolotan field, which
should allow the Central Asian nation to become a major gas
supplier to Europe and China, contained between 13.1 and 21.2
trillion cubic metres (tcm) of natural gas.
Berdymukhamedov said to the rapturous applause of the two
delegations that South Iolotan's reserves, combined with those
of two other fields, Yashlar and Minara, totalled 26.2 tcm.
Nabucco's other shareholders include Germany's RWE
, Hungary's MOL , Turkey's Botas, BEH of
Bulgaria and Romania's Transgaz . Germany's Bayerngas
is in talks to join.
(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov)