| Updated at: 1920 PST, Friday, November 19, 2010|
ASHGABAT: Turkmenistan has won support from its Caspian neighbours to lay a pipeline under the sea and become a major gas supplier to Europe, a senior official said on Friday, boosting plans for the EU-backed Nabucco project.
Turkmenistan, which according to BP data holds the world's fourth-largest natural gas reserves, will have up to 40 billion cubic metres of gas spare to supply to Europe, said Baymyrad Hojamuhamedov, deputy chairman of Turkmenistan's cabinet of ministers. He did not specify when this gas would be available.
"Taking into account domestic demand in the west of the country and supplies from there to Iran, we will have 40 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas free every year, so European countries need not worry," Hojamuhamedov told an energy conference.
Turkmenistan, Central Asia's largest natural gas producer, is seeking to diversify exports from its traditional market, Russia, and has already boosted supplies to China and Iran.
It could potentially become a major supplier of gas to the European Union-backed Nabucco project to supply the fuel to European markets.
Nabucco, intended to deliver gas from the Caspian region to Europe, is expected to cost about 7.9 billion euros ($11.04 billion) and is seen coming on line with about 15 bcm of gas by the end of 2014.
Hojamuhamedov said Turkmenistan's president, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, had proposed to a regional summit in Baku on Thursday that any two of the five countries on the Caspian should be able to agree on laying a pipeline under the sea.
He said "the majority" of the Caspian countries had agreed to this proposal.
"It's very good news for us that others supported this initiative," Hojamuhamedov said. "It supports our president's policy of diversifying export markets for Turkmen natural gas and we are bringing these plans to life."
He added: "Today, we are selling gas to Iran, China and Russia and talks on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline are moving at a fast pace. This initiative now opens up one more direction -- across the Caspian Sea -- and the opportunity to sell our hydrocarbons on the European market."
Turkmenistan plans to treble gas production to 230 bcm annually by 2030, of which 180 bcm will be exported, Bairamgeldy Nedirov, minister of oil, gas and mineral resources, said on Thursday.
It traditionally produces around 70 bcm annually, although supplies are estimated to have fallen to 40 bcm after a dispute with Russia over a ruptured pipeline last year.
Hojamuhamedov said Malaysian company Petronas , already active in the Turkmen portion of the Caspian Sea, would have 5 billion cubic metres of gas available for sale next year.
"We simply have nowhere to sell it," the minister said. "Turkmenistan is also building an 'East-West' pipeline with capacity to supply 30 billion cubic metres to the west of the country."
Most of Turkmenistan's major onshore gas deposits, including the massive South Iolotan field, are in the east of the country. Up to a further 5 bcm could come from projects run by Petronas, which could double production in the next few years.