Pubblicato da: Massimiliano Neri | 12 agosto 2008

The Geopolitics of Oil Pipelines in Central Asia

Ecco uno studio estremamente educativo sulla geopolitica della commercializzazione delle risorse energetiche estratte nella regione del Caspio

Kazakhstan has received much press recently as a result of the success of the comic film Borat. However, that movie got everything wrong in its depiction of Kazakhstan, with the exception of two things. The first is that the country is in a regional conflict with Uzbekistan. The second is the prevalence of prostitutes, which are everywhere in Kazakhstan. The country has become a target for immigrants practicing the profession, with women, girls, and even a few men flowing in from neighboring countries and farther abroad.[1] Since the 1979 discovery of the Tengiz field, a massive oil source under the North Caspian Sea,[2] and especially after the full-scale exploitation of that field and others during the post-Soviet era, Kazakhstan’s economy is booming and its citizens, in a frenzy of capitalism, are spending the influx of money liberally.

Elsewhere in Central Asia, Turkmenistan, a relatively small and isolated country, has been largely ignored by the American media but possesses what are believed to be the fourth-largest natural gas reserves in the world.[3] Considering the current violence in the Middle East and rising energy costs, we should begin to pay the sort of serious attention we have paid to Borat to the production of Central Asian oil and gas.

Conclusion: Perspectives for Caspian Oil on the World Stage

Nothing more than tentative predictions for the future of pipelines and the countries’ strategies can be made. However, despite the problems with providing reliable predictions, by looking at the advantages and disadvantages of the various Central Asian pipelines, one can at least make some decent educated guesses. We can assume, for instance, that all pipelines already operating will continue to transport oil and gas: the Iranian Korpezhe-Kurt Kui (gas), and the Russian Caspian Pipeline Consortium (oil). We can also assume that the pipelines already being constructed will continue and come online in the future: the China-Kazakhstan pipeline (oil).

We know that the export routes for the Central Asian gas face more difficulties than those for oil. Except for the small KKK and a few minor Soviet-era pipelines, there is no way to currently get the Turkmen and Kazakh gas to market. An Iranian route is unlikely, and gas pipelines through Russia face even more serious challenges than oil pipelines. As Russia has a much larger share of the world’s gas reserves than of oil reserves, it is more able to play politics with gas. Also, Russia would integrate the Central Asian gas into its existing pipeline network which is dedicated to shipping gas to Europe, as opposed to selling it on the open market, which might further increase the likelihood of political problems with the US. China does not have the same need for gas as it does for oil, and the costs of building a China-Kazakhstan gas pipeline would be prohibitive. If the US follows the strategies laid out in this paper, then the TCP will most likely be built, and it will carry the majority of Central Asian gas as well as some of its oil.

Looking at the struggle between Iran, Russia, China, and the US over their preferred pipeline routes for Central Asian oil and gas gives a good glimpse as to the world’s future geopolitical order. Despite the formidable difficulties in building pipelines, those four powers are converging upon the region with an eagerness that is almost desperate. In previous eras, a country’s military was the sole arbiter of her strength, but today her economy has become nearly as important, if not more so, and all industrial economies – and militaries – run on oil and gas. The US and China desire those resources to fuel their power plants, factories, automobiles, aircraft, and armored vehicles. Iran and Russia want the pipelines to go through their territory in order to claim transit fees and use the resources as political tools. For each country wresting control of the Central Asian oil and gas is necessarily a vital part of its grand strategy.


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