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freezing temperatures complicate turkmenistan’s energy exports

Freezing Temperatures Complicate Turkmenistan’s Energy Exports

Author: Haley Nelson

Jan 18, 2023

Image source: Shutterstock

Recent cold temperatures in Turkmenistan, usually one of the warmest countries in Central Asia, caused a sharp drop in pipeline exports, shocking the surrounding countries. In some regions of the country, temperatures dropped to –25 Celsius, a record temperature for southern Central Asia. Schools closed, military personnel were forced to find shelter in residential areas, flights were redirected, homes were without heat, and there were reports of significant loss of livestock. 

In addition to these challenges, there were reports of low pressure in Turkmenistan’s gas pipelines, causing the fire in heat-generating boilers to go out. As temperatures dropped well below freezing, at the Galkynysh gas field, gas hydrates began to form in the pipes and pumps, escalating the reduction of Turkmenistan’s gas exports. Because of the pipeline problems, gas exports to Uzbekistan were suspended, China and Afghanistan received reduced flows, and Iran's eastern and northeastern regions experienced low gas pressure. 

Iran’s Center for Management of Natural Disasters reported a 14-year temperature low of –29 Celsius, causing low supply of natural gas to some regions in the northeast. The shortage led to the suspension of the existing gas swap between Iran and Turkmenistan, and Iranian officials have held over 200 crisis management meetings in the past week. 

In Afghanistan, frequent blackouts have meant that citizens have power for only four to five hours a day, and businesses in Kabul’s industrial park have complained that they receive power for only one hour per day. Because Afghanistan receives 70% of its energy from electricity exporters like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iran, Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS), an Iranian gas transit company, has argued that the state needs to invest more into domestically-produced energy to avoid these complications in the future. 

Afghanistan’s neighbor, Uzbekistan, reported on January 12 that gas imports from Turkmenistan were suspended, causing mass gas outages in Tashkent. This shortage, however, reveals a pattern in Uzbekistan's energy sector, and therefore, the solution requires heavier measures.

This is not the first time Uzbekistan has faced energy challenges in recent months. In December 2022, Uzbekistan's Energy Minister, Sherzod Khodjayev, gave an interview with the National News Agency of Uzbekistan to detail resolutions to the ongoing energy crisis. In response to December’s energy crisis, he said, “the actions or inactions of each official regarding the existing problems in the energy sector will be given a legal assessment by the relevant agencies.” And, interestingly, now one month later, he himself faces the “disciplinary responsibility” he imposed onto others. 

 Initially, Khodjayev blamed the situation on “an accident at gas fields at a neighboring country.” However, for Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, this explanation was not adequate. Early on January 16, Mirziyoyev held a meeting to explain the dismissal of Khodjayev; stating that the purpose of the energy ministry is to ensure the smooth and uninterrupted supply of energy to Uzbekistan, and officials were unable to provide this. 

Along with Khodjayev, heads of Uzbekneftegaz, Uztransgaz, and Regional Electric Networks were put on a three-month probationary period, and the mayor of Tashkent, Jahangir Artykhodjayev, was removed from his post along with several regional governors. President Mirziyoyev cited “lack of preparation for the winter season” and “empty words” and “false reports” as reasons for the mayor’s removal. 

Reportedly, Artykhodjayev was scheduled to fly to Istanbul via Tashkent International Airport on flight HY 271 with his family on January 16. However, a delay to his flight led to the detainment of the mayor. 

Mirziyoyev blamed his demotion of energy company heads on their failure to combat corruption, referring to cases of energy theft. In particular, in the past five months, 20% of Uzbekistan’s annual gas consumption has been unaccounted for, and there were over 192 instances of oil and gas control system errors, indicating possible illegal activity. 

Although Turkmenistan’s gas exports to Uzbekistan have dwindled, exports to China, Turkmenistan's largest consumer, have remained relatively stable. It seems that Turkmenistan has concentrated its efforts on maintaining its relationship with China and ensuring domestic supply, despite the energy challenges Uzbekistan, Iran, and Afghanistan are facing. However, with plans to increase gas export capacity and enhance energy technologies, Turkmenistan might, in the future, be in the position to ensure a stable energy supply for all of its partners. 

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