It's the old joke: The first Fool to be able to pronounce the name of the still relatively new leader of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov, will win a trip to that Caspian nation. The last one to do so will win two trips there.
Turkmenistan is a potentially interesting situation for energy-investing Fools, but probably one you don't know much about. The former Soviet state sits atop Iran and, gulp, Afghanistan, and to the south of energy-rich Kazakhstan. Like its Kazakh neighbor, it lies to the east of the Caspian Sea. That's one of the reasons why it has recently awakened interest from the likes of BP
The nation is important from an energy perspective largely because it appears to contain about 100 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves. That, for the sake of perspective, is about two-thirds of Venezuela's gas assets. It also puts Turkmenistan in second place -- behind Russia -- among all ex-Soviet republics.
From the breakup of the Soviet Union until last December, Turkmenistan was under the sway of its late, autocratic President Saparmurat Niyazov. But now, with Berdymukhamedov at the nation's helm, the former go-it-alone approach has been scrapped in favor of regional cooperation regarding world and energy affairs.
Under this new outreach program, potential development meetings have been held with BP, and about six months ago, Chevron opened an office in the capital city of Ashgabat. There have also been lots of discussions with the leaders of Iran, Russia, and China. Word is that Turkmenistan will soon seek help from the world's energy companies in the construction of a new petrochemical plant.
For now, Russia's state-controlled OAO Gazprom provides the only means of export for the country's gas to the other former republics and Europe. But talks with Iran and China could lead to pipelines being built to supply those nations, potentially loosening Russia's current grip on Turkmenistan's gas.
This'll be an interesting situation for Fools to watch. I only hope that Berdymukhamedov doesn't operate like his peers in Russia and Kazakhstan. Russia has been less than forthright with companies like BP, Royal Dutch Shell
It can be a messy picture once other companies and countries become involved. For now, I suggest you put another peg in your world map of intriguing energy-producing locations, and sit back and enjoy the show.
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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy has been checked out everywhere but in Turkmenistan.