The Kazakh gas market continues to be organized on the basis of central command and control, and quasi-monopolistic principles, with KazMunayGas (KMG) as the state-owned and vertically integrated oil and gas company dominating gas production, supply and transportation through its direct and indirect subsidiaries.
Gas transportation services in Kazakhstan are provided by a wholly-owned subsidiary of KMG, KazTransGas (KTG), which is a vertically integrated transmission system operator/distribution system operator holding company. KTG acts as the so-called ‘national operator”, whereas Intergas Central Asia (a subsidiary of KTG) acts as the so-called ‘national operator of the main gas pipeline’. KazTransGas Aimak (another subsidiary of KTG) is the distribution system operator.
KTG as a national operator executes the state’s statutory preemptive right to purchase raw gas and commercial gas from oil companies in Kazakhstan (ie most of the gas produced in Kazakhstan is associated gas and therefore, gas production is not a major source of revenue for them) at a less-than-fair value price.
So far, it has been important for Kazakhstan to maintain the status quo because this way KTG has been able to buy cheap gas and use it for cross-subsidization of the local population and industries at the expense of foreign consumers and Kazakh gas producers.
The ‘new reality’ of the COVID-19 pandemic and the looming official launch of the Eurasian Economic Union’s common gas market in 2025, however, require urgent gas market reforms. 2020 is to be expected a horrible year for KMG and KTG, because of disappearing demand for gas in China and rock-bottom prices.
Most likely from now onwards, KTG should not expect the same level of huge profits from its export of gas and, therefore, it means that KTG would soon hardly be able to bear its social burden of cross-subsidization.
It is reasonable to expect a revival of heated discussions among relevant stakeholders on long-expected reforms and the liberalization of the Kazakh domestic gas market.
Among the possible scenarios of gas market reforms is a radical proposal of full liberalization and ownership unbundling which would prohibit a combination of competitive (production/supply) and natural monopoly (pipeline transmission) types of activity within one entity (or group of entities).
Without ownership unbundling of KMG, evidently, it would be difficult to solve one of the biggest deficiencies of the current model of its internal gas market — lack of cost-reﬂective tariffs.
It is also not clear whether it is at all possible to create a properly functioning Eurasian Economic Union common gas market in 2025 as currently envisaged, without Kazakhstan first rectifying its domestic gas market’s deficiencies including, inter alia, non-discriminatory third-party access. It is of no surprise then that KMG officially announced on the 5th June 2020 that it plans to spin off KTG and will seek creditors’ consent for the move.
All gas-producing and gas transportation companies in Kazakhstan are, evidently, Shariah compliant. Kazakhstan’s gas market liberalization is anticipated to eliminate inefficiency in the country’s gas sector and, thereby, create ample opportunities for foreign lenders and investors, including using Islamic finance-structured products.