Whatever happens next, all the problems plaguing TAPI remain. Turkmenistan -- adept of self-isolation, idiosyncratic and unreliable as long as it's not dealing with China -- is a mystery concerning how much natural gas it really holds (the sixth largest or third largest reserves in the world?)
And the idea of committing billions of dollars to build a pipeline traversing a war zone -- from Western Afghanistan to Kandahar, not to mention crossing a Balochistan prone to separatist attacks -- is nothing short of sheer lunacy.
Energy majors though, remain in the game. France's Total seems to be in the lead, with Russian and Chinese companies not far behind. Gazprom's interest in TAPI is key -- because the pipeline, if built, would certainly be connected in the future to others which are part of the massive, former Soviet Union energy grid.
To complicate matters further, there is the fractious relationship between Gazprom and Turkmenistan. Until the recent, spectacular Chinese entrance, Ashgabat depended mostly on Russia to market Turkmen gas, and to a lesser extent, Iran.
As part of a nasty ongoing dispute, Turkmengaz accuses Gazprom of economic exploitation. So what is Plan B? Once again, China. Beijing already buys more than half of all Turkmen gas exports. That flows through the Central Asia-China pipeline; full capacity of 55 billion cubic meters (bcm) a year, only used by half at the moment.
China is already helping Turkmenistan to develop Galkynysh, the second largest gas field in the world after South Pars.
And needless to add, China is as much interested in buying more gas from Turkmenistan -- the Pipelineistan way -- as from Iran. Pipelineistan fits right into China's privileged "escape from Malacca" strategy; to buy a maximum of energy as far away from the U.S. Navy as possible.
So Turkmenistan is bound to get closer and closer, energy-wise, to Beijing. That leaves the Turkmen option of supplying the EU in the dust -- as much as Brussels has been courting Ashgabat for years.
The EU pipe dream is a Pipelineistan stretch across the Caspian Sea. It won't happen, because of a number of reasons; the long-running dispute over the Caspian legal status -- Is it a lake? Is it a sea? -- won't be solved anytime soon; Russia does not want it; and Turkmenistan does not have enough Pipelineistan infrastructure to ship all that gas from Galkynysh to the Caspian.
Considering all of the above, it's not hard to identify the real winner of all these interlocking Pipelineistan power plays -- way beyond individual countries; deeper Eurasia integration. And so far away from Western interference.
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