Total SA’s move into Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic known for growing melons and cotton, is aimed at producing natural gas for export to neighboring China.
Total’s venture with China National Petroleum Corp. and Tethys Petroleum Ltd., formed in December, is targeting an estimated 114 trillion cubic feet of gas at the Bokhtar license, twice Norway’s proven reserves, according to Tethys. Bokhtar shares geology with Turkmenistan’s South Yoloten field and gas-producing regions of Uzbekistan, said David Robson, executive chairman at Tethys. The two nations already pipe gas to China.
The Bokhtar permit is at the eastern end of the Amu Darya Basin, where “big discoveries” have been made in Turkmenistan, Michael Borrell, a senior vice president for Central Asia at Total, said yesterday in London. The alliance with Beijing-based CNPC also brings with it a “large market outlet,” he said.
The successful development of gas in Tajikistan, which has little oil and gas output so far, would further hamper Russia’s ambitions to supply China, the world’s fastest-growing major economy. OAO Gazprom, Russia’s gas-export monopoly, has failed to reach a deal with Chinese customers after more than a decade of talks, while other former Soviet republics forged agreements.
The Bokhtar contract covers 35,000 square kilometers (13,500 square miles), an area larger than Belgium, and holds an estimated 27.5 billion barrels of oil and gas resources, according to Tethys, which already produces light oil from shallow wells in Tajikistan.
The partners plan to invest about $80 million to explore Bokhtar in the next two years and expect to sink the first well as soon as 2014, drilling to a possible depth of more than 6 kilometers. Tethys’s samples show deeper wells may either find “very light oil” or “very wet gas,” Robson said.
In the former Soviet Union, “Tajikistan was an area where they produced a lot of cotton, they produced water melons, but they didn’t really drill for oil and gas” deep underground, he said in an interview in London. “Now Tajikistan is an independent country, they want its resource to be developed.”
Should a discovery be made, the producers will pump gas to China through an existing pipeline or via a new link. They may also send fuel through the planned Trans-Afghan pipe as far as India, Robson said.
The Turkmen government renamed the South Yoloten gas field, the world’s second-largest, Galkynysh in 2011.