* Second management change in three months
* Turkmengaz falls short of 2010 output target
* Gas output up 16.5 pct in 2010, exports 33.6 pct
* President eyes closer gas ties with Europe
By Marat Gurt
ASHGABAT, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Turkmenistan’s leader has replaced the head of the state-run gas company, who held the job for only three months, after the Central Asian state fell short of its 2010 output target, state television reported on Tuesday.
President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has appointed Amanali Khanaliyev as the new head of Turkmengaz, the state company responsible for gas production and development of the world’s fourth-largest known reserves of the fuel according to BP data.
Khanaliyev, previously head of the Turkmengaz department responsible for building pipelines and infrastructure, replaces Dovlet Mommayev, who had only been in the job since October after predecessor Nury Mukhamedov was fired for “serious flaws.”
The state television report did not give a reason for the latest change of management.
Baymurad Hojamuhamedov, the deputy prime minister with responsibility for the energy sector, was quoted in the same report as saying Turkmenistan’s production of natural gas and associated gas rose by 16.5 percent, year-on-year, in 2010.
Turkmengaz had earlier been set the target of producing 100 billion cubic metres, which would have equated to an approximately 30 percent increase on previous annual output levels of around 70-75 bcm.
Turkmenistan, a former Soviet republic of 5 million people, has gas reserves surpassed only by Russia, Iran and Qatar.
The reclusive state rarely publishes data on its gas production, but has outlined ambitious plans to triple annual output to 230 billion cubic metres over the next two decades.
Hojamuhamedov said Turkmenistan’s natural gas exports increased by 33.6 percent, year-on-year, in 2010. He did not reveal volumes either for production or exports.
By 2030, Turkmenistan aims to be exporting 180 billion cubic metres a year of gas, nearly 80 percent of its planned output.
Keen to lessen its heavy dependence on exports to Russia, the country launched a natural gas pipeline to China in late 2009 and has agreed to boost exports to neighbouring Iran.
Reviving a plan to build a trans-Afghan pipeline to the markets of Pakistan and India is also on the agenda, as is the construction of an alternative export route to Europe, known as Nabucco, which would bypass Russia.
Berdymukhamedov said in the television report he had instructed the energy sector to build closer links with Europe.
“Today we are also ready to supply gas to European states,” the president said. “We need to resolve this issue this year.”
A government source told Reuters on condition of anonymity that European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso would visit Turkmenistan on Jan. 14-15 and that the Nabucco pipeline project would be high on the agenda.
Prior to this, Barroso will also visit Azerbaijan, which lies across the Caspian Sea from Turkmenistan and would be both a transit country and supplier of gas to the Nabucco project.
Hojamuhamedov said in November Turkmenistan would have up to 40 billion cubic metres of gas available to send to Europe, without giving a date. [ID:nLDE6AI141] (Writing by Robin Paxton; editing by James Jukwey)