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Turkmenistan to provide natural gas for all towns
Full access to natural gas – and the country reports that 99% of the public has piped-in gas or compressed gas – helps society and the environment.
By Dzhumaguly Annayev
ASHGABAT – All of Turkmenistan has access to natural gas, the government is saying.
"The programme for providing gas to the whole country was designed in the 1990s, and now we have finally implemented it throughout the whole country," Ykhlas Amanov, an engineer at the Turkmengazosnabzhenie (Turkmen Gas Supply) association within state-owned Turkmengaz, told Central Asia Online.
Achieving 100% coverage of the public is impossible, Amanov said, given that town and city borders are constantly expanding and that new housing units are always springing up. But more than 99% of the Turkmen public uses piped natural gas or compressed gas in cylinders, according to the State Committee for Statistics.
It wasn't always the case.
"Gas in Turkmenistan has been extracted since Soviet times, but back then it was almost entirely pumped into [Ashgabat], while [provincial] residents would heat themselves either by burning imported coal or twigs from desert shrubs," Tayjan Orayev, a retiree from Konye-Urgench District, Dashoguz Oblast, said.
"Seven kilometres from our village, workers put in the 1,420mm-diameter Central Asia-to-Centre pipeline," Orayev said, recalling how close the gas came to villagers who still couldn't use it. "The whole village would cook its meals over fires fuelled by cotton plant stalks and would heat its homes with heating oil and firewood."
Since 2006, though, his village has had access to gas, making life easier.
Besides giving consumers reliable heat, the gas programme has benefitted the environment, officials say.
"Providing natural gas to most of the country has positively affected mountain and desert woodlands," Bedry Zubaydov, a spokesman for the Ministry of Nature Protection, said.
"Before, dozens of groups engaged in illegally cutting down saxaul to sell as firewood to towns and cities, but now this criminal 'business' has completely stopped because of the lack of demand for firewood [after gas became widely available]," said Durdybay Mashadov, a ranger from the Dashoguz Oblast Department of Forestry.
The easier access to natural gas means less such cutting, therefore allowing other flora and fauna to flourish.
"The number of dwarf shrubs cut down has decreased by 95% [since 1990] in my area, which has led to the growth of white and black saxaul, calligonum and Salsola richteri, among other kinds of desert plants," Mashadov said.
The cessation of mass deforestation in combination with environmental protection measures has halted soil degradation, damage from wind erosion and the extinction of rare Turkmen animal and plant species, Zubaydov said.
"Fifteen years ago, 152 animals and 109 plants were on the verge of extinction and were classified as rare, but those figures have shrunk to 115 animals and 93 plants," Aleksey Garabayev, a Nature Protection Ministry specialist in monitoring ecosystem bio-diversity, said. "Over the past 20 years, because towns and cities have received natural gas, the total area of juniper, pistachio, saxaul, desert and desert-riparian woodlands has grown from 20.3% to 36% [of all Turkmen territory]."
Reliable service must be maintained
Mashadov is glad to see the positive transformation of mountain and desert ecosystems as a result of cities and towns receiving access to natural gas, but he stressed the need for reliability in supplying gas to those communities.
"In winter, consumers use a lot of gas, which decreases pipe pressure," he said. "This [reduction in pressure] forces villagers to burn wood and cotton plant stalks, so the system of domestic pipelines needs an upgrade."
"Gas workers have accomplished much by laying pipelines to the villages," he said. "But they need to ensure that the system works smoothly and at full capacity, so that people don't need to grab an ax and start cutting down trees and bushes to heat their homes."