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Reclusive Turkmenistan ups 2030 natural gas target
* Country banking on unexplored fields, new pipelines
* Ups 2030 output target to 250 bcm, from 230 bcm
* Rarely releases data
By Marat Gurt
ASHGABAT, Sept 13 (Reuters) - Turkmenistan, holder of the world's fourth-largest natural gas reserves, said on Thursday it would increase annual output of the fuel to 250 billion cubic metres (bcm) by 2030, upping an earlier target of 230 bcm.
The ex-Soviet Central Asian nation, where current potential annual gas output is estimated at just 75 bcm, is hoping to expand its industry massively by tapping unexplored fields and building two new U.S.-backed pipelines.
Its reclusive government, which rarely releases macroeconomic and energy data, has already begun diversifying gas export routes, particularly to China and neighbouring Iran.
"According to estimates by international experts, Turkmenistan's natural gas reserves are more than enough to cover in the foreseeable future the needs of China, Russia, Iran and Europe taken together," Kakageldy Abdullayev, acting minister of oil and gas, told an energy conference in Ashgabat.
"In line with the programme of developing Turkmenistan's oil and gas industry for the period until 2030, annual natural gas output will be raised to 250 bcm," he said.
President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, a 55-year-old trained dentist, wields virtually unlimited powers in Turkmenistan and is quoted as the source of most of economic data that the country does publish.
One of the planned pipelines is set to run across the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan and further to the European Union, where it could ease the bloc's dependence on Russian gas.
The other pipeline, named TAPI after the countries ready to take part in it, is expected to run from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan and then to Pakistan and India.
Industry experts estimate Turkmenistan's current production potential at 75 bcm a year, but say actual output has been lower in recent years, mostly because the country's main customer Russia has been buying less Turkmen gas.
Estimates by energy major BP plc put Turkmenistan's 2011 natural gas output at 59.5 bcm, or 40.6 percent higher than in the previous year.
BP data show Turkmenistan's natural gas reserves are the fourth largest in the world, behind Russia, Iran and Qatar.
Auditor Gaffney, Cline & Associates has said Turkmenistan's largest gas field - Galkynysh, better known under its previous name South Iolotan - is the world's second-largest, with gas reserves of between 13.1 trillion and 21.2 trillion cubic metres.
Quoting unnamed "independent experts", Abdullayev said Galkynysh alone was actually holding 26.2 trillion cubic metres of gas.
He said Turkmenistan's hydrocarbon riches were much higher, because they also included practically undeveloped oil and gas deposits in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea, the right bank of the Amu Darya river and in southeastern Turkmenistan.
He gave no new target for natural gas exports to go with the new output figures. Turkmenistan earlier announced plans to export 180 bcm of natural gas a year by 2030. (Reporting by Marat Gurt; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
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