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Iraqi forces free hundreds of civilians in Mosul Old City battles as death toll mounts
* Bagtyarlyk field to boost Turkmen gas exports to China
* Giant Galkynysh field to ramp up exports to 65 bcm by 2020
* Turkmen president to visit Beijing next week
By Marat Gurt
BAGTYARLYK FIELD, Turkmenistan, May 7 China cemented its position as the top importer of Turkmen gas, ahead of Russia, at a ceremony on Wednesday to open a new plant at a major field, attended by the Turkmen president seated on a lavishly gilt throne.
The desert nation sits on the world's fourth-largest reserves of natural gas and rising exports to China have powered its economic growth to annual rates of over 10 percent. The newly opened processing plant at the Bagtyarlyk field feeds a major pipeline to China.
Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, a 56-year-professional dentist titled "Arkadag" ("The Patron") and the focus of a flourishing personality cult, will visit China next week to strengthen ties with the world's largest energy consumer. Turkmen officials did not disclose the details of his visit.
"Much-esteemed President! Hundreds of millions of Chinese are enthusiastically waiting for your visit," Deng Minmin, China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) general manager in charge of the Turkmenistan branch, told Berdymukhamedov.
Bagtyarlyk, with reserves estimated at 1.3 trillion cubic metres of gas, is one of several Turkmen fields feeding the 7,000-km (4,375-mile) China-bound pipeline, which was built in 2009.
Turkmen gas exports to Russia have nosedived by three quarters in recent years. Turkmenistan also sells small amounts of natural gas to neighbouring Iran.
"Bagtyarlyk has to date absorbed a total of $4 billion in investment," said Berdymukhamedov from his podium, after arriving by helicopter at the field set among sun-scorched sand dunes.
"The construction of this new gas processing plant totalled over $600 million," he said.
The plant was built by CNPC which has the exclusive right to develop Turkmenistan's lucrative onshore gas deposits.
The president then pressed his palm against the touch screen of a giant computer to symbolically set the plant in motion.
CNPC data distributed to media said that between Dec. 14, 2009, and April 30, 2014, Turkmenistan had supplied 78.3 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas to the China-bound pipeline. Bagtyarlyk had accounted for 21.5 bcm of this.
While no precise official data published, Turkmen officials said on condition of anonymity that Turkmen exports to China were set to reach some 25 bcm this year, rising from about 20 bcm in 2013.
The plant, built by CNPC and located near the Uzbek border will process 9 bcm of natural gas a year.
With Bagtyarlyk's new capacity, Turkmen gas exports to China will reach 40 bcm in 2016, a Turkmen official told Reuters. They will swell more to 65 bcm by 2020, after gas from the Galkynbysh field, the world's second largest natural gas deposit, will start flowing.
In September, China's President Xi Jinping and Berdymukhamedov launched a gas processing plant at Galkynysh, whose fuel will fill the future "Line D" of the existing China-bound pipeline which will run across Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. (Writing by Dmitry Solovyov, editing by William Hardy)