* 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 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
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)