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India to join Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline
20. February 2006, 15:59

PTI - Ahead of the visit of US President George Bush, India has decided to join the US-backed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline to import natural gas to meet the fuel needs of its growing economy.

New Delhi, earlier this month participated for the first time as an "observer" in the 9th meeting of the steering committee of the TAP project and has since decided to join the 3.5-billion dollar project.

"We have 90-days to get necessary official approvals to join the project. Once approved by the Cabinet, the project will be renamed TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline)," Petroleum Minister Murli Deora told PTI here.

Officials said the pipeline from Turkmenistan would be more easier to implement than the Iran-Pakistan-India line as it already had the backing of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Moreover, unlike IPI, the project does not run the risk of being blacklisted for participation by US and European financers and companies.

US has been encouraging Pakistan to abandon the IPI project and consider TAP for meeting its gas needs. The Bush administration accuses Tehran of harbouring nuclear weapon ambitions and has called for its isolation.

The proposed natural gas pipeline would stretch from the Turkmenistan/Afghanistan border in southeastern Turkmenistan to Multan, Pakistan (790 miles, 1,271 kilometers), with a 400-mile (640-kilometer) extension to India. Estimated cost of the project is 2.9 billion dollars for the segment to Pakistan and an additional 600 million dollars for the extension to India.

The pipeline would offer a much-needed financial boost to war-ravaged Afghanistan in form of transit fee. "Ofcourse there are security implications but once Afghans see huge economic benefits flow in the form of jobs and multi-million dollar transit fee, they will ensure the pipeline is safe," an official said. Though New Delhi was not considering TAP as an alternate to IPI, it saw the implementation of the latter as much easier.

Besides, the tough posturing adopted by Iran on sale of gas in form of LNG to India has forced New Delhi to look at other sources, the official said.

Tehran is yet to ratify the 22-billion dollar deal to export 5 million tonnes per annum of LNG for 25-years from 2009 to India despite the initial agreement being signed in June 2005.

The proposed TAP pipeline will carry natural gas from the Dauletabad Field, in southeastern Turkmenistan at a rate of up to 2 billion cubic feet per day (20 billion cubic meters per year). US energy firm Unocal, the previous owner of Dauletabad field, had in October 1997 stated that the fields had been independently certified reserves of more then 25 trillion cubic feet (708 billion cubic meters).

The Government of Turkmenistan has guaranteed deliverability of 25 trillion cubic feet (708 billion cubic meters) of natural gas exclusively for the Central Asia Gas Pipeline. Much or all of this gas is expected to come from the Dauletabad Field.

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