A Brief History of Natural Gas in Afghanistan

Exploration for petroleum resources in Afghanistan began in 1936, but grew dramatically in 1957 with the technical and financial assistance of the Soviet Union. The exploration efforts of Afghan and Soviet petroleum engineers revealed significant petroleum resources in the northern regions of Afghanistan, particularly in the Amu Darya basin. More than eight gas fields were drilled and tested, and three of the fields became major gas producers. Most of the natural gas exploration and infrastructure is centered in Jowzjan Province, near the city of Sheberghan. The Ministry of Mines established the Gas Transmission Department to handle natural gas operations in the late 1950s. The Afghan Government established the Directorate of Exploration of Oil and Gas in the 1960s to accommodate expanding petroleum operations in Afghanistan. The name and structure of Afghanistan’s petroleum agencies have undergone various changes throughout the years since the 1960s. Currently, hydrocarbon operations in Afghanistan are handled by the Afghan Gas Enterprise and the Northern Directorate of the Hydrocarbon Unit. Oversight of the activities of these entities is provided by the Hydrocarbon Department of the Ministry of Mines.

A total of 144 natural gas wells (exploration, observation and exploitation) were drilled in the three major producing gas fields, named Gerquduq, Yatimtaq and Khoja Gogerdak. Other exploration activities were carried out in the Juma, Bashikurd, Khoja Bolan, Jangle-e-Kolan, Checkchi and Shakarak gas fields. Approximately half of the wells were completed as exploitation wells and produced gas at varying levels over the past 60 years. Until the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, natural gas produced from the Sheberghan gas fields was exported to the Soviet Union, but also supported the operations of the Northern Fertilizer and Power Plant and a textile mill in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Following the Soviet military withdrawal, natural gas production and operations in Afghanistan dropped dramatically. Very little exploration and development was conducted during the Afghan civil war and under the Taliban government. Operations resumed slowly following the American invasion and removal of the Taliban government. As of February of 2011, 34 natural gas wells in the three producing gas fields were in limited production. Afghan Gas Enterprise successfully rehabilitated a well in the Shakarak gas field in early 2011, which represented the first major addition to Afghanistan’s natural gas supplies in decades. Afghan Gas Enterprise is currently producing approximately 450,000 cubic meters of natural gas every day. The majority of this natural gas is sent through a large pipeline to the Northern Fertilizer and Power Plant in Mazar-e-Sharif. The remaining natural gas is distributed through a network of pipelines to domestic customers in Sheberghan, Khoja Dokho, Aqcha and other villages in Jowzjan Province.

Future Plans for Afghanistan’s Natural Gas Resources

The Ministry of Mines is working on a comprehensive development plan to replace outdated equipment and infrastructure in the gas fields and modernize the operations of Afghan Gas Enterprise to support renewed demand for energy resources in Afghanistan. The plan includes the rehabilitation of several gas wells in producing fields and a revitalized program to begin production from new fields, virtually untapped during Soviet times. These new gas supplies will require investment in new infrastructure including natural gas processing plants and pipelines to deliver clean, domestically-produced energy supplies to residents and industrial customers in Afghanistan. Two of the major projects include the rehabilitation of the Northern Fertilizer and Power Plant in Mazar-e-Sharif, which is one of the largest single employers in Afghanistan, and the construction of a new gas-fired, thermal power plant to provide year-round electricity to meet Afghanistan’s growing energy needs. The Ministry of Mines is also working to develop energy resources to support new industrial developments in Mazar-e-Sharif that will provide much needed employment opportunities to the citizens of Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Mines is working daily with international donor organizations such as the United States Agency for International Development, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the United States Department of Defense, and the International Security Assistance Force, among others, to make these critical energy projects a reality. In September of 2011, a Memorandum of Collaboration was signed between the Ministry of Mines, the United States Agency for International Development, a consortium of private investors, and the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation that lays out the plan for development of the gas-fired, thermal power plant. In June of 2011, former U.S. Ambassador Eikenberry and Minister Shahrani visited the Northern Fertilizer and Power Plant and signed a Memorandum of Understanding which reconfirmed the commitment of the United States Government to provide the support needed to develop Afghanistan’s petroleum resources. These are just two examples of the many efforts being made by the Ministry of Mines to enhance the quality of life for millions of Afghan citizens through responsible and diligent development of Afghanistan’s natural resources.