* Turkmenistan can link to TANAP project
* Ashgabat keen to ease dependence on Moscow
By Marat Gurt
ASHGABAT, May 30 (Reuters) - Turkey is ready to deliver Turkmenistan’s natural gas to consumers in Europe, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Thursday, supporting the Central Asian nation’s plans to build alternative pipelines and ease dependence on exports to Russia.
Turkmenistan, a Turkic Muslim nation of 5.5 million, pins hopes of future propriety on its giant natural gas reserves, the world’s fourth largest.
As Turkmenistan plans to start production at the Galkynysh natural gas deposit, the world’s second largest, by June 30, its current export outlets are limited by former imperial master Russia, China and neighbouring Iran.
“We have discussed issues and signed an agreement on bringing Turkmen energy supplies to Europe via Turkey,” Gul said through an interpreter after talks with Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat.
On Thursday, the two presidents oversaw the signing of a framework agreement on cooperation in Turkmen gas deliveries to Turkey. It was inked by Turkmen Deputy Prime Minister Baymurad Hojamukhamedov and Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz.
Senior Turkish officials had said earlier Turkmenistan would be welcome to link to the $8-billion Trans-Anatolian natural gas pipeline (TANAP).
The TANAP project, controlled by Azerbaijan’s state energy firm SOCAR, aims to take Azeri gas to Turkey and to markets in Europe. Azeri officials have said they will back the construction of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan across the Caspian Sea, if Ashgabat takes such a decision.
Construction of the TANAP pipeline, which will be built from the Turkish-Georgian border to Turkey’s border with Europe, is expected to start at the end of 2013.
TANAP is due to start carrying 16 billion cubic metres of gas a year from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II offshore field from 2018. The total could eventually rise to as much as 60 bcm.
Turkmenistan’s exports to Russia, once the traditional market for Turkmen gas, have shrunk to roughly a quarter in the past few years to around 10 bcm per year.
Exports to China stood at 20 bcm in 2012, Turkmen data show. Annual export capacity to Iran is 14 bcm, but actual - and undisclosed - exports are much smaller.
Turkmenistan expects to produce between 75 bcm and 80 bcm of natural gas this year, up from 70 bcm in 2012, a senior Turkmen energy official said last week. It aspires to more than triple annual gas output to 250 bcm by 2030. (Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by James Jukwey)