03/04/2004, 00.00
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New pipeline to satisfy Beijing's energy needs

Beijing (AsiaNews) – To replenish China's ever greater energy needs, Beijing will obtain oil from fields in western Kazakhstan thanks to the planned construction of a new pipeline, scheduled to get underway this July or August. This is what Uzakbay Karabalin, CEO of the Kazak state-owned company KazMunaiGaz, said last Feb. 24.  

Uzakbay Karabalin has submitted to the government all technical and financial documentation related to the 1300 km-long project (from Atasu to Alashankou). The remainder of the pipeline, along an additional 3000 km course, will be completed in phases at later time.  The pipeline will initially be able to transport 10 million tons of oil each year. Later its capacity will be as high as 20 million tons annually.

The building of a pipeline has been discussed for quite some time. But until now plans were considered unrealistic, since the investment was held to be too costly. China's enormous need for fuel, which authorities have found difficulty to satisfy, had pushed the government to reconsider the project.

Kazakhstan, a country with 2.7 million square kilometers of land and about 15 million inhabitants, is the 9th largest country in the world in terms of total surface area, just ahead of Australia. It is country rich in mineral deposits and is the third largest producer of gold in the world. The characteristic which has placed Kazakhstan at the center of attention among western businesses is that of the rock formations covering 62% of its territory,  making it potentially rich in oil. Nearby undersea oilfields in the Caspian Sea are the greatest discovery of oil in the last 30 years.   

Until now Kazak crude had been exported to Russia and throughout the Mediterranean via ports located along the Black Sea. According to some estimates, Kazakhstan oil reserves amount of 9 billion barrels. Kazak authorities say they want to triple the country's exports by 2015, bringing the current figure up to 3.2 million barrels a day. China is the world's second largest importer of oil.

Recently it was announced that a free-trade area was to be built along the Kazakhstan border: yet another step to strengthen economic and political relations between Beijing and oil-rich countries of Central Asia. The zone will cover 200 (130 in China and 70 in Kazakhstan) hectares of land, located between the autonomous Prefecture of Yili Kazak (Xinjiang) and Alma-Ata (Kazakhstan).     

The free-trade zone will have its own administration, no customs charges and will allow for the free flow of persons and goods. In 2006 a railway will be built there. It is still unknown when exactly the area will be inaugurated. Nonetheless, Zhejiang Kasher Group, the world's largest producer of sofas, already has opened business in Horgos and has allocated an initial 200 million yuan (about 25 million euro) investment. Eight or nine high-tech companies have also said that this year they will start doing business in the area. (MdO-MR)


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