Uzbekistan Cuts Domestic Gas Use

As Uzbekistan tries to maximise sales of natural gas to China, the focus on exports risks depriving locals of fuel.

Uzbekistan started sending gas to China on April 2 through a pipeline it shares with Turkmenistan and Kazakstan. Local media outlets which reported the move did not say how much was being supplied, although an Uzbek-Chinese agreement two years ago spoke of plans for 10 billion cubic metres a year.

Uzbekistan produces around 60 billion cu m of gas annually, exporting some 17 billion cu m to Russia and four billion cu m to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, with the rest for domestic consumption.

The government wants to increase export volumes to 27 billion cu m by 2020, drawing on identified reserves and unexplored areas of the Aral Sea region in the north of the country. To allow exports to rise before new fields come on stream, the government launched a programme three years ago to reduce the use of gas in power stations by 25 per cent, and switch instead to coal.

Residents of Uzbekistan have experienced a reduced gas supply for some time, especially during the winter, and some have resorted to using firewood. (See Gas Shortages in Energy-Rich Uzbekistan and Uzbek Capital Hit by Power Cuts.)

In March this year, the authorities started setting up sales points for coal in the main gas-producing regions in the west and northwest – Karakalpakstan, Bukhara and Khorezm.

The government has also decreed that gas-fired furnaces used to heat apartment blocks, hospitals and schools must be converted to coal before the autumn.

"This decision is in line with our government’s economic strategy,” one commentator in northwest Uzbekistan said. “It regards foreign currency revenues from gas exports as more important than keeping its citizens’ homes warm.”

The switch to coal is unpopular, as converting furnaces is expensive and Uzbekistan’s fields in Angren only produce low-grade brown coal.

"It's useless; it produces a lot of ash and not much heat," a resident of Karakalpakstan’s Biruni district said. He added that in the absence of gas, his family would turn to cheaper alternatives like dried animal dung and saxaul plants.

This article was produced as part of News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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