Uzbekistan says it has all but entirely stopped exporting natural gas and instead increased imports of the fuel amid a surge in domestic demand in the early stages of winter.
Deputy Energy Minister Sherzod Khodjayev said on November 16 that daily exports of gas have decreased from 10 million cubic meters to 1 million cubic meters. Imports have increased by 20 percent, he said, without specifying where Uzbekistan is sourcing the gas.
The Energy Ministry had previously forecast that gas exports in 2022 would reach 3.3 billion cubic meters, with most of it earmarked for China and other Central Asian countries.
In 2021, Uzbekistan produced 53.6 billion cubic meters of gas – a figure that officials hope to see increase to 66.1 billion cubic meters by 2030. But to go by the widespread accounts of households currently coping with chronic electricity outages and low gas pressure, the incremental output increases are not able to meet the steady rise in the aggregate demand from households and industry.
This year is proving especially difficult. Gas production in the first three quarters decreased by 1.6 percent, to 38.9 billion cubic meters, compared to the same period in 2021. Officials see a deficit to needs of around 20 million cubic meters of gas daily.
Although Khodjayev, the Energy Ministry official, did not identify who would be selling extra gas to Uzbekistan, there is a good chance neighboring Turkmenistan may be prepared and able to cover the shortfall.
When Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev traveled to Ashgabat in October, he said that talks with his Turkmen opposite party focused in part on expanding cooperation on energy. While it was not spelled out, trading in gas may be one of the priorities the two nations seek to pursue.
As for exporting, the plan is to definitively stop doing it altogether. At the start of this year, Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov forecast that Uzbekistan would stop selling gas to foreign buyers by 2025.
In the meantime, one company has dreamt up what looks like a desperate challenge to sell the public on the idea that lack of gas could serve as a valuable opportunity to embrace frugality.
News website Podrobno reported on November 8 that Khududgaztaminot, the company that operates the country’s gas distribution networks, has devised a challenge for the public to economize on at least 1 cubic meter of gas per customer daily. The hashtag #1_kub_gaz_tejang (“Save 1 cubic meter of gas”) has been devised to accompany the challenge.
“Considering the fact that there are over 2.7 million households in the country, if each [customer] saves at least 1 cubic meter of natural gas, that will come to around 2.7 million cubic meters per day, 83.2 million cubic meters per month, and in a year, about 1 billion cubic meters in total,” Podrobno writes, in apparent support for the initiative.