Another Breakdown at Turkmenistan’s Galkynysh Gas Field — China to Seek Compensation

Equipment to remove sulfur from gas at Turkmenistan’s Galkynysh gas field has broken down. As a result, a large quantity of gas contaminated with sulfur has entered the Central Asia – China gas pipeline. This is the second breakdown at Galkynysh since the start of the year. China intends to demand compensation.

During the night of May 16-17, specialists from the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) discovered sulfur in commercial gas on the Turkmen-Uzbek border. According to a source in the Turkmengaz state concern, an inspection showed that untreated gas was pumped into the pipeline and sent to China for several days.

Gas contaminated with sulfur is dangerous for gas pipelines as it damages pipes.

This has already happened: leaks have been recorded in the past four days over the 80-km Uzbek section of the pipeline. CNPC has demanded that Turkmenistan respond to the incident and punish those responsible. In future, the Chinese side will demand compensation.

According to sources, the breakdown in the gas treatment equipment was caused by the late purchase of reagents and spare parts and a lack of staff. Several sector-specific specialists have recently been dismissed from Galkynysh.

On May 20, the Turkmengaz management team told their Chinese partners that the breakdown had been fixed. But according to sources, this is not actually the case. Gas is being treated only by 20 per cent.

In January 2023 supplies of gas from the Galkynysh field to Uzbekistan and partially to China were suspended because of an unusually extreme cold snap and the related breakdown of shoddy sensors and the purchase of very cheap reagents (antifreeze).

This breakdown had a major impact on the position of Turkmengaz on the market at a time when Russia’s Gazprom had begun to move into Asian markets because of sanctions. The Russian company reached an agreement on cooperation in the gas sector with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan without the involvement of Turkmenistan. And in March Russia knocked Turkmenistan off top spot in the list of China’s gas suppliers.

And now Turkmengaz is again giving China cause to consider it an unreliable partner. To top it all, this took place during President Serdar Berdimuhamedov’s visit to China. A criminal case has been opened over the breakdown, but it’s not yet known who is named in the case.

The former deputy chairman of Turkmengaz, Atamyrat Charyyev, has been sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment for the January breakdown. But the head of the state concern, Batyr Amanov, has been promoted: he is the new deputy prime minister for the oil and gas sector. This may be connected with the fact that he is a distant relative of the Berdimuhamedov family. His cousin is married to the president’s sister.

On May 13, Maksat Babayev took charge of Turkmengaz. He had already been chairman of the state concern, but then moved around between different positions (constant personnel reshuffles are common practice in Turkmenistan though they may appear pointless to the outside observer). It has now emerged that the treatment equipment at the Galkynysh field broke down at practically the same time as the change in the top manager.

It’s the Turkmen side that should have noticed the breakdown. They should have suspended the export of gas immediately, fixed the problems promptly, and apologized to partners. But the Turkmengaz employees either didn’t notice what had happened or, and this is more likely, tried to cover up the fact that they were destroying expensive pipelines with sulfur.