Oil-rich Kazakhstan prepared on Thursday to begin pumping oil to energy-hungry China through the former Soviet republic's first oil pipeline bypassing Russia. For the vast Central Asian nation, which is expected to become one of the world's largest oil exporters, the 1,000-kilometer (625-mile) pipeline opens a huge market. It is designed to carry 140 million barrels of oil a year.
For China, the new route is a key step toward securing adequate foreign energy supplies for its booming economy. The pipeline is a 50-50 joint venture between state companies China National Petroleum Corp. and KazMunaiGaz.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev was expected to push a button at KazMunaiGaz headquarters in the capital, Astana, opening the flow from the pipeline that starts in the central town of Atasu, 280 kilometers (175 miles) to the south.
Kazakhstan, which possesses the largest oil deposits in the energy-rich Caspian Sea, currently produces about 1.3 million barrels a day, and by 2015 will increase production to 3 million barrels a day, according to the Oil Ministry.
Until now, the main route for Kazakh oil exports has been the Caspian Pipeline, which was launched in 2001 to join the giant western Tengiz oil field with Russia's Black Sea port of Novorossiisk.
For Beijing, the launch of the new pipeline that runs to the Altaw Pass in northwestern China is part of a strategy aimed at satisfying its growing appetite for energy by tapping the reserves of neighboring Central Asian nations.
The Kazakh-Chinese pipeline will initially carry oil from the Kumkol field in central Kazakhstan, which is worked by CNPC after it acquired its previous operator earlier this year. By 2011, when it reaches full capacity, the pipeline is expected to be used to ship oil from Russia's western Siberia, reports the AP. I.L.