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ENERGY RESOURCES AT STAKE
In the 1970s, a wide variety of mineral resources were discovered. Analysis by the United States Geological Survey and extensive researches revealed the existence of a number of minerals and unexploited oil reserves in the north of Afghanistan of economic importance. The most important discovery was that of natural gas, with large reserves near Sheberghan in Jowzjan province, near the Turkmen border, about 75 miles west of Mazar-e Sharif.
The US Department of Energy estimates the gas reserves in Turkmenistan are the fifth largest in the world and Kazakhstan is soon expected to become one of the world's largest oil producers. The wider region, around the Caspian Sea, holds more oil and gas than either the United States or the North Sea. But despite these potential riches, the Central Asian republics remain locked in economic and infrastructural dependence on Russia: the legacy of 70 years of Soviet rule. Moscow's attempts to perpetuate that dependence, the republics' efforts to escape it and Washington's eagerness to assist them, have created a decade-long 'New Great Game' in Central Asia. Afghanistan is an essential part of the jigsaw puzzle because it provides part of the land route for a pipeline to the Indian Ocean.
The Soviets endeavored to export some of the country's resources to the USSR. In the 1970s, the Soviets had estimated Afghanistan's proven and probable natural gas reserves at up to 5 trillion cubic feet (Tcf). Afghan natural gas production reached 275 million cubic feet per day (Mmcf/d) in the mid-1970s. However, due to declining reserves from producing fields, output gradually fell to about 220 Mmcf/d by 1980. At that time, the Jorquduq field was brought online and was expected to boost Afghan natural gas output to 385 Mmcf/d by the early 1980s.
From this point, in the 1980s, USSR decided to build a 180km pipeline that would export natural gaz across the Amu Darya into the country. The natural gas production increased to 240 Mmcf/d and 97 percent was exported to the USSR via the pipeline. Ongoing hostilities, however, severely hampered this effort and finally cut off the natural gas export. By the mid-1990s there was little mineral or oil and gas extraction. However, sabotage of infrastructure by the anti-Soviet mujahedin fighters limited the country's total production to 290 Mmcf/d, an output level that was held fairly steady until the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. After the Soviet pullout and subsequent Afghan civil war, roughly 31 producing wells at Sheberghan area fields were shut in pending the restart of natural gas sales to the former Soviet Union.
Ever since the fall of the former Soviet Union ten years ago, Exxon, Mobil, Chevron and the other big oil monopolies have been eyeing on the vast oil and gas wealth around the Caspian Sea, just north of Afghanistan. This regions oil reserves may reach more than 60 billion barrels, enough to service Europes oil needs for years. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels. The Caspian Sea reserves are 10 percent of the worlds known supply, worth about $5 trillion at todays prices.
Russia and German companies had been trying to establish a pipeline from the Caspian Sea through Eastern Europe, but U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia blocked this plan. Russia, however, also brokered a treaty with Iran for a pipeline route. China also began negotiating to build oil and gas pipelines from Kazakhstan. In January 2001, oil industry journals lamented that any chance the U.S. had of cementing alliances in the region seemed doomed. They noted, however, that the incoming Bush administration, heavy in oil and related interests, would likely try to reverse this trend.
In February 1998, Unocal Corporation testified to the House Committee on Internal Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific that the Taliban government in Afghanistan is an obstacle to having an oil pipeline from the Caspian region to the Indian Ocean , that is, through Afghanistan. In 1997, Unocal even tried to woo the Taliban with billions of dollars to support the proposed pipeline through their country.
According to the book that has just appeared in Paris, in November, entitled
Bin Laden, "La Verite Interdite" (Bin Laden the Forbidden Truth) the
Bush Administration was under high pressure from the United States oil companies.
The Bush Administration held extensive talks with the Taliban regime
from February to August 2001 with the aim of securing control over the vast
oil and gas reserves in Central Asia through the construction of an oil
pipeline from the rich oil fields in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan,
to Afghanistan and Pakistan and onto the Indian Ocean. "The oil and gas
reserves of Central Asia have been controlled by Russia. The Bush government
wanted to change all that...this rationale of energy security changed into a
military one". At one moment during the negotiations, US representatives
told the Taliban, "either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or
we bury you under a carpet of bombs".
Besides oil and natural gas, Afghanistan also is estimated to have 73 million tons of coal reserves, most of which is located in the region between Herat and Badashkan in the northern part of the country. Many coal deposits have been found in the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush, in Karkar and Eshposhteh, in Baghlan province, and Fort Sarkari, in Balkh province. Although Afghanistan produced over 100,000 short tons of coal annually as late as the early 1990s, as of 1999, the country was producing only around 1,000 short tons.