Turkmens Detail Riches of Tendered Caspian Oil Gas

ASHGABAT–Turkmentistan (Reuter)–Turkmen’stan’s part of the Caspian shelf–for which it is holding an international tender–holds 2.3 billion metric tons of oil and 1.8 trillion cubic meters of gas–officials said late Monday.

"The area put up for the tender which opened on Monday covers 22,600 square km–or 30.5 percent of the 74,000 square kilometers of the Turkmen Caspian Sea shelf," Toily Kurbanov–head of the Competent Body for the Exploration of Hydrocarbons–told a news conference.

An official from the former Soviet republic’s oil and gas ministry told Reuters earlier on Monday the tendered area covered only 25 percent of the Turkmen Caspian Sea shelf.

The area open to development comprises 11 blocks in the Caspian–out of 30 blocks claimed by Turkmen’stan.

US survey company Western Atlas International–which conducts seismic tests for Turkmen’stan–currently estimates the Central Asian state’s total Caspian shelf resources at 3.0 billion tons of oil and 4.5 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.

Khoshgeldy Babayev–deputy oil and gas minister–told the same news conference that Turkmen’shelf oil and gas reserves were 6.5 billion tons and 5.5 trillion cubic meters–respectively.

Kurbanov said invitations to take part in the tender had been sent to over 200 companies in Europe–the United States and Asia–adding that companies wishing to obtain full seismic data of the Caspian shelf from Western Atlas would have to pay $2.9 million per data packet.

But foreign oil firms intent on dipping their toes in oil-rich Caspian waters must ask themselves how safe their investment is–with the Caspian’s legal status subject to cut-throat political wrangling.

For the Caspian’s five littoral states–Russia–Iran–Kazakhstan–Azerbaijan and Turkmen’stan–trillions of dollars worth of oil and gas ride on the quarrel over ownership of its resources.

Russia and Iran’say the oil belongs to all five states and should be developed jointly. The other three states want the Caspian divided five ways into sectors and developed independently.

Kurbanov said the disputed Serdar oil field–known also as "Kyapaz"–was one of the blocks put up for the tender.

The field–with an estimated reserves of 50 million metric tons of oil–had been targeted for joint exploitation by Azerbaijan’s state company SOCAR and Russia’s largest company LUKoil and state oil company Rosneft.

SOCAR signed a contract with LUKoil and Rosneft in July but the deal was canceled last month by Russian President Boris Yeltsin–who declared it null and void under pressure from Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

Serdar–the Turkmen for "leader," has been named in honor of Niyazov who rules his desert nation of around four million people with an iron hand.

Some other of the tendered blocks are Gara Gurt–or "Black Wolf," Gaplan ("Tiger") and Azhdar ("Dragon").

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