Unocal and Bridas pulling Taliban for gas pipeline

Jan 22, 1998 01:00 AM

Dec. 8, 1997 Three Taliban ministers have gone to the United States to hear what an American oil company has to offer if they agree to let a lucrative gas pipeline be built from Turkmenistan through Afghan territory to Pakistan.
"They are just going to Texas to talk. They are not supposed to sign any agreements on the gas pipeline,'' Mutta Wakil, a Taliban spokesman said from the Taliban headquarters in southern Kandahar. "If any agreements are reached they will be signed in Afghanistan.''.
American Unocal is competing against the Argentinean Bridas for the wealthy gas reserve in Turkmenistan, which according to some estimates, has gas reserves of 2.7 trillion cubic meters (94 trillion cubic feet).
For months, Bridas and Unocal have been wooing the Taliban for the rights to run the pipeline through Afghan territory to energy-starved Pakistan, which is all set to buy the gas.
The Taliban rules roughly 85 % of the country and virtually all of the area through which the pipeline would pass. TheTaliban's enemies, an alliance of several smaller parties, rule roughly 15 % of the country in the north.
The length of the pipeline is estimated at 1,460 km (876 miles), beginning in the gas-rich fields of Turkmenistan through western and southern Afghanistan to Pakistan. The pipeline could eventually continue on to neighbouring India.
But the bitter civil war in Afghanistan has been a major headache for both oil companies. Bridas has a second worry, the Turkmenistan government, which is arguing over previous deals with Bridas, now has signed an agreement with Unocal.
Previously, the Taliban indicated a greater willingness to sign on with Bridas, but according to Pakistani officials, Turkmenistan already has agreed to let Unocal exploit its gas reserves. "It's up to Turkmenistan. Whomever that government signs with will be the company that will move the gas,'' Pakistan's Petroleum Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said . "It's not up to us.''
Unocal already has begun training Afghan engineers to work on the construction of the pipeline, which it says it will begin building in Dec. 1998 and complete two years later in 2000.
Bridas, meanwhile, is offering the Taliban roads and schools if it signs on with them.
The Taliban, who also sent delegates to Argentina, say they are waiting for the best deal, and according to Wakil, whoever begins construction first is the company most likely to get the Taliban's support.

Source: not available
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