Energy-hungy India in pipeline diplomacy

Moscow, Oct 21 (IANS) In comforting news for energy-hungry India, the transnational Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project is turning into a reality with US energy giant Chevron likely to be chosen to construct and run the 1,800 km long pipeline. New Delhi is also seeking to tap hydrocarbons from Russia's vast reserves with a similar pipeline that could link or run parallel to it.

India, which is set to become the third largest energy consumer in the world by 2025 after the US and China, has been trying to firm up gas transmission projects with other countries, including one through Iran and Pakistan and from Myanmar, but none of them have worked out so far due to various constraints.

The TAPI pipeline now looks set to be concretised with Chevron to be selected to lead a consortium to finance and run the pipeline.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his talks with President Vladimir Putin here Monday is expected to seek heightened energy cooperation between the two countries.

India has stakes in the Sakhalin-1 project, off the east coast of Russia and is also scouting for energy in the Tomsk region in Siberia. But whatever oil and gas India gets from the two areas, it has to sell to other buyers, as bringing it to India via ship would be too expensive, said an informed source familiar with the bilateral discussions. The money that comes from sale of the Russian gas and oil is then used for purchasing oil for India, the source added.

With TAPI looking to succeed, India would be examining if something similar can be done with Russia, like an oil pipeline from Russia running parallel to it, said another source.

In fact, Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurhid, during his Moscow visit earlier this month, had pointed to it. In an interview to Voice of Russia after co-chairing the Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission (IRIGC), Khurshid said that Russia had evinced keenness in participating in a TAPI-like pipeline project. He said that all the Russian gas was being exported to Europe and if the TAPI pipeline was extended to Russia, it would help bring the gas to South Asia.

During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's talks with President Putin both sides are likely to agree on conducting feasibility studies on such a pipeline project.

Chevron has sought exploration rights in Turkmenistan in exchange for financing and running the project. Turkmenistan, which was earlier against giving exploration rights to foreign companies, has relented. According to reports, Turkmenistan has offered exploration rights to Chevron for offshore fields and asked the company to swap the gas found for onshore ones and export it to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India under the TAPI project.

Asked about Pakistan's opposition to joining the TAPI project over India-Pakistan border tensions, the source said Pakistan needs energy and is equally keen to participate in the project.

The TAPI project envisages constructing 1,680 km of pipeline with a total gas capacity of 90 mscmd. The length of pipeline in Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan up to the Indian border is 145 km, 735 km and 800 km, respectively. It would see Pakistan getting 1.365 billion cubic feet of gas per day (bcfd) from Turkmenistan while India would receive the same amount and Afghanistan get 0.5 bcfd, according to reports.

(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at ranjana.n@ians.in)

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