Turkmenistan plans to begin production at Galkynysh, the world's second-largest gas field, by June 30, which will allow it boost exports to Asia and help Europe lessen its dependence on Russian gas, Reuters reports.
Turkmenistan, a post-Soviet Central Asian country of 5.5 million which borders Afghanistan and Iran, holds the world's fourth-largest natural gas riches after Russia, Iran and Qatar.
British auditor Gaffney, Cline & Associates has estimated the reserves of Galkynysh, named after the Turkmen word for renaissance, at 13.1 trillion to 21.2 trillion cubic metres.
"This is a very deep field, the total gas accumulation is very large, so we have huge gas production capacity," Annageldi Mametyazov, Turkmen deputy oil and gas minister, told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Paris on Wednesday.
The deadline for the field's first gas output was timed to coincide with the birthday of Turkmenistan's strongman President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov marked on June 29.
Berdymukhamedov, a professional dentist who will turn 56, holds virtually unlimited powers and is lionised by state media as "Arkadag" (The Patron) in his reclusive nation, which human rights groups say is one of the most repressive in the world.
Mametyazov said Turkmenistan's gas output would be higher in 2013. He said he expected production at 75 to 80 billion cubic metres this year, up from 70 bcm in 2012.
But the desert nation, which pins hopes of future prosperity on its huge gas reserves, lacks outlets to bring "the blue fuel" to world markets.
Former imperial master Russia, which was once the traditional market for Turkmen gas, has cut purchases roughly fourfold in the past few years to around 10 bcm per year.
NEW GAS ROUTES
Kakageldy Abdullayev, chairman of Turkmen national gas company TurkmenGas, told a gas congress in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat on Wednesday the second stage of development at Galkynysh would allow eventually to boost annual gas export to China by 25 bcm to 65 bcm per year.
Li Xiaoning, deputy director general at China Petroleum Engineering & Construction Corporation, told the Ashgabat gas congress this volume would be achieved in 2020. Since the start-up of the China-bound pipeline in December 2009, Turkmen gas exports to China have totalled almost 50 bcm, he said.
Turkmen data show 2012 gas exports to China stood at 20 bcm.
Turkmenistan, which also exports smaller amounts of gas to Iran, plans to build an alternative pipeline to Afghanistan and further to Pakistan and India, which is named TAPI after the countries it will eventually cross.
It has also mapped out another route, to run across the shallow Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan and further to the European Union to ease the bloc's dependence on Russian gas.
Abdullayev said Galkynysh could feed the two new gas routes.
But despite the strong backing of the European Union and the United States, the two would-be pipelines exist mostly on paper.
Russia, one of the five littoral Caspian states, has strongly opposed the Europe-bound route, saying this project could damage the fragile ecology