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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Turkmenistan Opens Its Doors to Investors

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- Global energy policy makers joined the race for Turkmenistan's vast oil and gas reserves Wednesday as two days of intense diplomacy kicked off in the reclusive Caspian nation.

U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman, EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and executives from BP, Chevron and Russian companies flocked to Ashgabat for an oil conference marking the end of Turkmenistan's self-imposed isolation.

Russia buys most of the country's natural gas at below market prices but Turkmenistan's new reformist leader, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, is keen to cooperate closer with the West to ease reliance on Russia's pipeline network.

"Turkmenistan has great potential which must be realized," Steven Mann, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asian Affairs, said on the sidelines of the conference. "And in this respect the United States of course will always support it."

Turkmenistan, isolated from the world first under Soviet rule and later during the 21-year reign of former President Saparmurat Niyazov, is keen to showcase its improving investment climate and fresh opportunities for global oil companies.

"Turkmenistan's potential to enter global markets depends on the possibilities of our gas transport system," Turkmen Oil Minister Baimurad Khojamukhammedov said.

Since Niyazov's death last December, the West, Russia and China have intensified contacts with Turkmenistan, which plans to more than triple its gas production by 2030 from this year's planned 70 billion to 80 billion cubic meters of gas.

Berdymukhammedov has agreed to build a pipeline that would boost supplies to Russia while tentatively agreeing to a U.S.-backed plan for a trans-Caspian pipeline designed to ease Europe's dependence on Russian gas imports.

Speaking at the conference, Gazprom deputy chairman Valery Golubev said negotiations with Turkmenistan on a new Russia-backed Caspian Gas Pipeline were going as planned. "The Caspian Sea Pipeline is expected to be built by 2011 which will help double supplies [from Turkmenistan]," he said. "This would be the shortest way for European consumers." Golubev added that Gazprom was looking into the possibility of building a gas plant in the Caspian Sea port of Turkmenbashi but did not elaborate.

Khojamukhammedov also said that Turkmenistan would hold a tender this year to build a petrochemical plant with a processing capacity of three million tons of oil per year.

He said both domestic and foreign companies would be welcome to take part in the tender. "We will call an international tender to build a petrochemical complex in the east of the country with processing capacity of three million tons of oil and three billion cubic meters of gas," he said.