A major oil find by Canada’s Tethys Petroleum in Tajikistan comes at a bad time for the Central Asian country, as the security situation is about to skyrocket out of control in a restive province on the border with Afghanistan.
Last month, Tethys upgraded its oil and gas reserves in Bokhtar to an estimated 8.5 billion barrels of oil and condensate and 114 trillion cubic feet of gas. Indeed, Tethys believes that discovery trumps those in the British North Sea. The company is now obtaining seismic data to pinpoint where they will establish Tajikistan’s first-ever deep, sub-salt well.
But the Bokhtar Production Sharing agreement is logistically and geopolitically challenged due to the fact that its wealth sits in the fossil-fuel-rich Amu-Darya basin, shared by Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.
It could have unexpected consequences for the country’s dispute with its downstream neighbours over the construction of controversial hydroelectric power stations in its territory. The future of Afghanistan is also likely to pose some serious challenges to exploration and exploitation, particularly after 2014 when US forces largely withdraw.
The discovery catapults Tajikistan from a largely insignificant country in terms of fossil fuel resources, to a major player, and exporter, overnight. It will also change Tajikistan’s entire energy policy, which relies largely on hydropower schemes along the Amu-Darya River. And its dams continue to wreak havoc on relations with its neighbours, particularly Uzbekistan, which is concerned about the impact of the dams on its own agricultural output. More to the point, Tajikistan is probably concerned that its oil success will destroy its chances of building another massive (and massively controversial) dam the justification for which is that Tajikistan has no other energy recourse.
But dam disputes are the least of Tajikistan’s problems. The country faces elections next year, and the security situation is worsening quickly. August has seen a major increase in violence, particularly near the border with Afghanistan.