October 27, 2010 / 7:28 AM / 9 years ago

ExxonMobil back in Turkmenistan, eyes gas riches

* ExxonMobil reopens Turkmen office, given warm welcome * Turkmenistan needs U.S. support on gas export routes

By Marat Gurt

ASHGABAT, Oct 27 (Reuters) - U.S. energy major ExxonMobil (XOM.N) has reopened its office in Turkmenistan and said it was keen to develop its giant natural gas resources.

Turkmenistan, Central Asia’s largest natural gas producer estimated to hold the world’s fourth-largest reserves of the fuel, is eager to triple its current annual output of some 75 billion cubic metres (bcm) within 20 years.

“Turkmenistan has great potential to be a regional energy and economic leader given its abundance of natural gas, which is the fastest growing fuel around the world,” Joerg Weller, general manager of ExxonMobil Exploration and Production Turkmenistan Ventures B.V., said in a statement.

ExxonMobil, the largest natural gas producer in the United States which is also involved in Russia and Kazakhstan, pulled out of Turkmenistan in 2002, citing economic reasons.

Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov met Rob S. Franklin, president of ExxonMobil Upstream Ventures, on Tuesday and “stressed the large potential for partnership with this company”, the official Neitralny Turkmenistan daily said on Wednesday.

Berdymukhamedov said “the huge experience of ExxonMobil could be successfully used in geological exploration and development of Turkmen hydrocarbon reserves on the Caspian Sea shelf, and in oil processing”.

Like his predecessor, late Turkmen President-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov, Berdymukhamedov enjoys sweeping powers and there is no real opposition to his authoritarian rule in the reclusive desert nation.

He is lionised by a docile domestic media, but his authority contrasts the bizarre personality cult which Niyazov enjoyed during his life. Berdymukhamedov has also launched some long-delayed economic reforms and is more investor-friendly.

Turkmenistan said in June that it would welcome U.S. support to diversify its energy exports. It is offering gas to consumers in Europe, China and Iran as it seeks to diversify supplies from its traditional market, Russia.

Turkmenistan is also keen to to revive its ambitious trans-regional pipeline project, aimed to bring Turkmen natural gas via Afghanistan to Pakistan and India and known as TAPI after the four countries through which it would pass. (Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by William Hardy)

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