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Tajikistan explores for natural gas fields
The country is searching for natural gas reserves as one solution to help it move toward energy independence.
By Negmatullo Mirsaidov
KHUJAND – As Tajikistan copes with a natural gas shortage, the country is looking for ways to move toward energy independence.
One answer is to prospect for natural gas on its own territory, according to the government's Main Geological Administration, and geologists have identified several promising gas fields in the past three years.
Exploratory drilling at the Sarikamysh deposit in Bokhtar District is on-going, the Energy Ministry said, with specialists expecting to strike gas at a depth of 6,300m.
"We can't precisely predict the volume of gas in the deposit," Main Geological Administration Deputy Director Rakhmonbek Bakhtdavlatov said. "But one thing is clear: the country's southern oblasts will receive enough natural gas to meet at least [our] essential needs."
Exploration work in the country's north, conducted by the Sughd-based company Somon Oil, indicates a major gas deposit could be found in Asht District.
"The potential presence of natural gas deposits on the foothills of the Qurama mountain ridge becomes likelier because of two facts – the existence of a salt stratum serving as a gas-holding 'lid' and the on-going extraction by neighbouring Uzbekistan of oil and gas at Mingbulak on the other side of the border," Tajik economist and ex-MP Mirzosharif Islomiddinov said. "On both sides of the frontier, the geological conditions are virtually the same, which is very encouraging."
Analysts have pointed to another promising deposit in the foothills in Kanibadam District, near an oil field that has been operating since Soviet times. Full-scale exploration drilling is under way near Makhram village, and the trial borehole is 4,449m deep, according to SughdNeftegaz (Sughd Oil and Gas) Co.
"By early estimates, the gas layer is at a depth of some 4,800m," Energy and Industry Ministry senior analyst Subkhonkul Mavloni said. "… If those estimates are confirmed, Tajikistan's northern oblasts will get natural gas within the next six months."
Contributing factor to shortage
One reason the country is looking to become more energy independent is that it has been suffering from irregularities in the natural gas supply from Uzbekistan.
In January, Uzbekistan – Tajikistan's sole natural gas supplier – terminated all shipments to its neighbour, according to Tajiktransgaz, the national gas transport company.
"In the past few years, we received exactly as much natural gas as we could pay for," Tajiktransgaz Deputy Director Shavkat Shoimov told Central Asia Online. "Individuals couldn't afford paying in advance. … The only customers we could collect money from were industrial enterprises and natural gas car filling stations."
Since the mid-2000s, gas supply from Uzbekistan has been irregular and prices have increased dramatically. Prices have gone up 131% since 2006, when Tajikistan paid US $130 (618 TJS) per 1,000 cu. m; that amount now costs US $300 (1,426 TJS).
Previously Tajikistan has gone into debt for Uzbek gas, but now Uzbekistan insists that Tajikistan pay up front, Shoimov said.
Dealing with the shortage
As Tajik factories and residences have felt the crunch, the country has sought to solve the problem by using electricity and compressed natural gas in homes and industry.
"Gas supply disruptions have caused us to switch to more expensive [but readily available] fuel oil," Lal Bottle and Jar Factory economist Anvar Akhrorov said. "For my company, purchasing natural gas even at US $300 (1,426 TJS) per 1,000 cu. m would still be profitable; however, switching from one fuel to another takes time, which an industrial enterprise with obligations to its customers just doesn't have."
The goal in Tajikistan is to depend less on Uzbek natural gas. Tajikistan purchased natural gas solely for motor vehicle use in 2012. Its gas imports from Uzbekistan were limited to just 47.7m cu. m in 2011, to further decline by 9m cu. m one year later.
"That's only 5% of what Sughd Oblast needs," Sodik Rustamov, head of the oblast administration's energy and industry department, said. "That's why we've ordered industrial companies to switch to other fuels."
One of those is compressed natural gas.
"There are many modern service stations in our oblast that reliably provide compressed gas," Kanibadam resident Ravshan Umarov said. "Besides, compressed gas is safe. So I switched to it despite the cost of converting my car engine."
Compressed natural gas imports totalled 52.9m cu. m in 2011, increasing by more than a third to 81.3m cu. m in 2012, according to the Energy and Industry Ministry.
"That figure doesn't take into account the millions of cubic metres of compressed gas brought into the country from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan because of the transparency of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border," Yormakhmad Begakhmadov, head of the ministry's oil and gas supplies division, told Central Asia Online.
Hard-pressed Tajiks are finding ways to cope at home too.
"We've already got used to cooking on an electric stove and using electric heaters to warm our homes," Khujand resident Kobila Usmanova said. "Personally, I've long since had my gas stove converted to use electricity. Should gas supplies be restored, switching back to gas wouldn't be difficult."