Under the Soviets the natural resources of Uzbekistan, including Qaraqalpaqstan, were exploited to provide cheap raw and semi-finished materials to power and supply the Russian military-industrial complex. Since independence the focus of the new regime has been to accelerate the exploitation of Uzbekistan’s natural resources for its own benefit, by developing and expanding local processing and manufacturing industries, especially those with either import substitution or export and foreign currency earning potential.

In the first few years of independence it was naively thought that foreign investment would quickly flow into Uzbekistan from the West to fund new ventures aimed at exploiting the countries vast natural reserves. Although there have been a few success stories with private Western companies – most notably in the Uzbek gold extraction industry – many potential investors have been discouraged by corruption, currency, and other bureaucratic restrictions, and concerns about the regime’s stability. In recent years Uzbekistan has introduced production- sharing agreements as a means of encouraging investment in mines and gas wells and has increasingly turned back towards the former eastern Communist bloc, forming strategic partnerships with companies from both Russia and China.

Some indication of the relative position of Qaraqalpaqstan compared to the rest of Uzbekistan can be gauged from the following map, drafted by the Uzbek State Committee of Geology and Mineral Resources, which shows the country’s major deposits of mineral resources:

Map courtesy of the State Committee of Geology and Mineral Resources.
(Click here to download a higher resolution version of this map.)

The relative absence of such deposits in Qaraqalpaqstan stands out in comparison with the mineral wealth of the other provinces of Uzbekistan.

Sadly for Qaraqalpaqstan the majority of its raw material deposits are fairly localized and small by international or even by Central Asian standards. Because of their remote location these raw material deposits do not generally justify the large capital investments required for their commercial exploitation.

To date the two notable exceptions to this have been natural gas and rock salt.

The discovery of major Qaraqalpaq gas fields on the central Ustyurt plateau and under the bed of the Aral Sea during the 1990s has led to the Uzbek government upgrading this region to become the number one national priority for future investment in gas field development and production. Qaraqalpaq natural gas is located closer to Russia’s industrial heartland and can be conveniently fed into the nearby Central Asia-Centre gas transmission lines that already cross the Ustyurt. In the last few years the Russians have taken a leading position as investment partners in the development of the Qaraqalpaq gas industry.

The fortuitous occurrence of large salt deposits close to the limestone cliffs of the Ustyurt plateau has encouraged the Tashkent government to locate a new soda ash chemical processing plant close to Qon'ırat. Once fully on-stream this plant is anticipated to supply Uzbekistan’s total needs for soda ash, an important raw material for the manufacture of glass, detergents, and other industrial products. The plant will also produce salt and sodium hydroxide.

Unfortunately for Qaraqalpaqstan the revenue raised by the sale and export of these natural resources and their derivatives is likely to end up in government coffers in Tashkent to be invested in the development of industries and infrastructure in more developed regions like Tashkent itself, or Samarkand and Ferghana.

Oil and Natural Gas

Existing and Potential Reserves

It is possible that Qaraqalpaqstan has some of the largest reserves of hydrocarbons in Uzbekistan. By 2004 some 20 gas fields had been discovered in the Qaraqalpaq portion of the Ustyurt plateau. Significant reserves have also been located under the bed of the rapidly disappearing Aral Sea. The majority of these deposits have only been discovered during the last decade. As elsewhere in Uzbekistan most of the finds are in the form of natural gas rather than oil. Energy analysts estimate potential Qaraqalpaq reserves of gas at 1.7 trillion cubic metres and potential reserves of oil at 1.7 billion tonnes.

The importance of these potential new finds can be judged from the fact that in 2004 the total of all of Uzbekistan’s proven existing natural gas reserves were reported to be 1.86 trillion cubic metres. While small in comparison to Russia, which has the world’s largest proven reserves (48 trillion cubic metres), Uzbekistan’s resources are still important and are around twice those of Britain, Europe’s largest gas producer. Uzbekistan is ranked the eighteenth most important country in the world in terms of proven gas reserves.

Although still somewhat speculative, total probable gas reserves are estimated at between 5 to 6.25 trillion cubic metres, of which 1.2 trillion are anticipated to derive from the Ustyurt and 0.5 trillion from the Aral Sea. At present proven reserves from both of these locations are negligible.

Although Uzbekistan was a relative newcomer to the oil and gas industry it is already an important producer of natural gas, ranked within the top ten producing nations of the world. The majority of its currently operational gas fields lie in a region known to geologists as the Amu Darya Basin, a region of the Qizil Qum desert lying to the east of Qaraqalpaqstan, between Khiva and Bukhara, and extending south through Turkmenistan as far as the Kopet Dagh. The very first Uzbek gas field at Setalantepe was only discovered in this region in 1953. The first major find – the giant Gazli field located 110 km to the north-west of Bukhara - occurred in 1956. With original reserves of about 700 billion cubic metres, Gazli is the only major gas field in Uzbekistan to be free from sulphur and also has a very low content of nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

Today there are over 80 natural gas fields in Uzbekistan with 12 major deposits, of which Gazli, Shurtan, and Kokdumalak in the Amu Darya Basin are the largest. The Gazli field, which can be seen from the road between No'kis and Bukhara, is currently still the biggest producer of natural gas. The second largest production is from Shurtan, to the east of Bukhara, which began producing in 1980 and accounted for 36% of Uzbekistan's natural gas production in 2000. About 80% of current Uzbek gas production comes from the Amu Darya Basin. The other two important regions are the Ferghana Valley and the Murabek area in the south-west of Uzbekistan.

The oldest gas field in Qaraqalpaqstan is at Shaxpaxty on the Ustyurt plateau, in the south-west of the Autonomous Republic to the west of the Sarykamysh Lake. Operations at Shaxpaxty began in 1962 and its reserves at that time were estimated at 40 billion cubic metres. A feeder pipeline was constructed running north from Shaxpaxty to the Qaraqalpaqia compressor station linking it to the Central Asia-Centre pipeline. However production at Shaxpaxty was halted in February 2002 because of the obsolescent state of equipment at the compressor station, by which time some 8 billion cubic metres of the reserve had been extracted.

In the early 1990s exploration work began at an accelerating pace across the dried-up bed of the Aral Sea in Qaraqalpaqstan, and on the nearby Ustyurt plateau. By 2001 test rigs could be seen dotted right across the former seabed lying to the north of Moynaq. The Qazaqs too began exploration work in the northern part of the Aral Sea.

Exploration Drilling Rig in Adshubai Bay, now part of the Aral Qum - May 2001.

The Urga gas field, close to the western edge of the Ustyurt and not far from the southern coast of the Aral Sea, was first discovered in the early 1990s and began production in 1995. It has an output of 500 million cubic metres per annum, all of which is consumed within Qaraqalpaqstan.

In the last few years eight gas condensate fields have been discovered in the Ustyurt/Aral region of Qaraqalpaqstan. Two of them – U'shsay and East Berdaq – have already been brought into development.

Another of them, the Quwanish gas field in the central Ustyurt lying to the south-west of the Aral Sea, has been partly explored with 21 wells and has been estimated to have reserves of 325 billion cubic metres of gas.

Pipeline Network across Qaraqalpaqstan

Uzbekistan has several important pipeline corridors. Work began on the construction of this network of transcontinental pipelines in the 1960s to permit the delivery of natural gas from the Uzbek SSR and the Turkmen SSR to the industrial centres of Russia.

The shortest internal corridor links Gazli and other Uzbek gas fields around Bukhara with Samarkand and Jizzax. However the first international pipeline was built towards the east in order to supply Tashkent and was then extended to export gas to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan and Almaty in Kazakhstan. The very first section was completed in 1960 after the discovery of the Dzharkak gas field in the Amu Darya Basin in Uzbekistan. In 1968 it was extended to Tashkent, reaching Bishkek in 1970 and Almaty in 1971. It is about 1,400 km long.

However the most important corridors run north-west through Qaraqalpaqstan to Kazakhstan and Russia, supplying users in both European Russia and the Urals. The starting points for this system of natural gas transmission are the Gazli gas field and the other gas fields around Bukhara, and the main gas producing areas in Turkmenistan.

The Bukhara-Urals gas pipeline was built between 1963 and 1965 following the development of the Gazli gas field. From Gazli it runs to a compressor station at Urgench, then onto another at Qon'ırat. The twin pipeline runs up the western coastline of the Aral Sea to the Yuzhno-Ustyurt (Southern Ustyurt) compressor, before crossing the Kazakh border and heading north for Orsk. This pipeline supplies Bashkiria and Tatarstan to the west of Orenburg, although in recent years it has effectively only supplied the Aktubinsk region.

The most important transmission system is the Central Asia-Centre (meaning Central Asia-Central Russia) gas pipeline. This links Uzbekistan with the Russian gas transmission system, using Qaraqalpaqstan as the main corridor to the north-west. The entire 13,750-km Central Asia-Centre transmission system was completed in the mid-1970s.

The Central Asia-Centre gas pipeline has various branches originating within Central Asia. The western branch delivers Turkmen natural gas from the Caspian region northwards up the eastern side of the Caspian Sea as far as Beyneu, in western Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, the higher capacity eastern branch pipes natural gas from the region surrounding Mary, in eastern Turkmenistan, and the gas fields of southern Uzbekistan in a north-west direction across Uzbekistan towards the compressor station at Khiva. From Khiva four parallel pipelines run in a straight line along the left bank of the Amu Darya then across the Ustyurt, passing close to Jaslıq. There are three further compressor plants in Qaraqalpaqstan: at Aqchalok, Tuley and Qaraqalpaqia. The two branches of the Central Asia-Centre pipeline join up at Beyneu and then continue northwards before entering the Russian natural gas pipeline system. Two lines run in a north-west direction to Moscow, and two others proceed westward across the Volga river linking into the North Caucasus-Moscow transmission system.

All the transmission line corridors are operated by Uztransgaz, the Tashkent-based subsidiary of Uzbekneftegaz, although the corridor running north-westward is operated and maintained from Urgench. The main pipelines have diametres of 102, 80, and 70 cm, and operate at a pressure of 5.5 megapascals (about 55 atmospheres). The entire pipeline complex includes 25 main compressor stations and 43 maintenance workshops. In recent years the network has had the capacity to transport about 45 billion cubic metres of gas annually from Central Asia to Russia, the Ukraine, and other European countries.

Gas Transmission Network in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan, rather than Uzbekistan, has been the chief exporter of natural gas via the Central Asia-Centre pipeline. In the past over 90% of Turkmenistan's natural gas exports have been directed through the eastern branch of the pipeline, mainly because the majority of Turkmen natural gas production is in the eastern part of the Qara Qum desert, but also because the western branch of the pipeline is in poor technical condition. Turkmenistan has had a supply agreement with Russia’s Gazprom for some years and has been exporting a growing volume of gas to Russia, exceeding 40 billion cubic metres in 2005. Gazprom has a separate agreement with Uztransgaz for the transmission of Turkmen gas through the Uzbek pipeline network for delivery to Russia.

The geography of Central Asia means that countries like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have limited options for exporting their natural gas. This allows Gazprom to purchase Central Asian gas at well below world market prices so that it can fill the domestic shortfall created by its commitments to supply Russian gas to its customers in Western Europe at full market prices. Turkmenistan has been trying for some years to break this stranglehold and in 2005 signed a major export supply contract with the Ukraine.

The Tashkent-Bishkek-Almaty pipeline supplies Kyrgyzstan and southern Kazakhstan with Uzbek gas. However supplies from Uzbekistan have been erratic since independence and both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan have forestalled payments for gas, leading to cuts in supply. There have also been attempts to illegally tap the pipeline within Kyrgyzstan.

Uzbekistan is trying to develop more pipeline routes to provide additional options for selling natural gas to neighbouring countries. As early as 1996 it was proposed that the Central Asia-Centre pipeline be expanded to provide more access to European markets. Having remained in operation for over 30 years, the CAC system is at the end of its life-cycle and in need of major rejuvenation. Now plans are being made in cooperation with Gazprom to modernize and upgrade the pipeline, increasing its capacity to 55 billion cubic metres per annum. The first stage will be to reconstruct the existing pipelines and to increase the capacity of the compressor stations and this should be completed by the end of 2006. A new Gazli-No'kis pipeline has already been opened in 2004, replacing an older pipeline that had suffered from corrosion and poor maintenance. The second stage is to begin installing an additional pipeline in 2007. It is estimated that the total investment required to expand its export gas pipeline system and to reconstruct its domestic pipelines will be of the order of $1.5 billion.

There was also a memorandum of understanding with Turkmenistan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan (before the Taliban takeover) on a Central Asia Gas pipeline project called Centgas. In theory Uzbekistan would use the Centgas pipeline to export gas to Pakistan and possibly India. However, since Afghanistan is still in transition, this project is in limbo although Turkmenistan still maintains an interest. Uzbekistan is also interested in a proposed 5,000-mile pipeline that would supply gas to China from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

There is also an import pipeline that once brought oil from Omsk in Russia to supply refineries in Uzbekistan via the Qazaq city of Chimkent. However this has been inactive for several years.

Gas Exports

During the 1980s the Uzbek SSR exported approximately 7 to 8 billion cubic metres of gas per annum to Russia and Eastern Europe. However as domestic consumption increased at a faster rate than production, so the surplus available for export declined and then stagnated. Following independence gas production began to increase and in recent years gas exports have been on the rise. At the end of 2002 Uzbekistan signed a long-term gas supply agreement with Gazprom and exports to Russia recommenced in May 2003. In recent years Uzbekistan has been exporting almost 8 billion cubic metres of gas – about 5 to Russia, 1 to Kazakhstan, 1 to Kyrgyzstan, and 0.5 to Tajikistan.

In compliance with its agreement, natural gas exports to Russia will rise to 10 billion cubic metres per annum over the next few years. Uzbekistan plans to increase natural gas exports to 20 billion cubic metres per annum by 2020. The extra output will come from existing gas fields in the short term but the long-term growth will result from the development of new fields in the Ustyurt region.

Development of Ustyurt and Aral Sea Reserves

In 1998 the Uzbek government merged nine companies in the oil and gas sector to form Uzbekneftegaz, a state-owned holding company responsible for the commercial exploitation of Uzbekistan’s oil and gas resources. The Uzbek government has subsequently invested more than $1.2 billion in the company. In April 2000 the President of Uzbekistan announced plans to partially privatize Uzbekneftegaz, offering 49% to foreign investors. Minority shareholdings in some of the subsidiaries of Uzbekneftegaz were also put up for offer, including 44% of Uzneftegazdobycha, the oil and gas exploration subsidiary, 39% of Uzneftepererabotka (oil refining), and 39% of Uzburneftegaz (the drilling company). In an effort to improve the country's climate for foreign investors, Karimov announced that foreign companies engaged in exploration and extraction would receive preferential treatment, including exclusive rights, options to produce any oil or gas they discover for a fixed period of time, and the exemption from certain taxes and dues for a set period.

In the same decree the President of Uzbekistan declared that the national priority for oil and gas exploration was henceforth to become the Ustyurt region of Qaraqalpaqstan.

To date the majority of Western oil companies have been wary of committing to any major investments in Uzbekistan, given its questionable political stability and its restrictions on foreign currency exchange. However the planned privatization of Uzbekneftegaz turned out to be a failure for a variety of additional reasons, including the company’s governance, its management and structure, Uzbek accounting and auditing practices, and concerns about its asset base and its true oil and gas reserves.

More recently the Uzbek government has decided to change its tack and to offer production-sharing agreements to foreign oil companies instead, offering them a share of the output in return for investment in specific production facilities. Over 80 oil and gas fields were selected with the aim of attracting significant new investment. Of the oil fields offered 78 are contained in 16 exploration blocks, 6 of which lay in the Ustyurt region. Within Qaraqalpaqstan, Uzbekneftegaz had plans to develop the Kuanysh, Urga, Aqchalak, Agyin, Shaxpaxty, and Aral fields.

Already in April 2001 Britain's Trinity Energy, (through a specially formed subsidiary known as UzPEC Ltd), had signed the first production sharing agreement (PSA) with Uzbekneftegaz. The $400 million project was to entail the development of fields in Uzbekistan's central Ustyurt and South-west Gissar regions, and the partners anticipated having an annual natural gas production of roughly 2 billion cubic metres by 2006. However Uzbekneftegaz broke off the PSA in February 2005, alleging that UzPEC had not met all of the conditions specified in the PSA. At first both parties resolved to settle their dispute at the international arbitration court, but Uzbekneftegaz's CEO announced in June that they would resolve their conflict outside of the court.

The most significant development however has been the growing involvement of Russia’s major energy company Gazprom, who have made a bold move to become major investors in the Central Asian oil and gas industry. Between 2002 and 2003 Gazprom signed agreements with the national gas companies of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. Taken as a whole, these agreements put Russia in the driving seat to develop a unified gas system across Central Asia.

Uzbekneftegaz signed its long-term strategic cooperation agreement with Gazprom in December 2002. This agreement covered the long-term supply of Uzbek gas to Russia from 2003 to 2012 and the joint implementation of gas production projects under PSA conditions.

Under the umbrella of that strategic alliance a more specific “production-sharing agreement” was concluded in Tashkent in April 2004 between Uzbekneftegaz and CJSC Zarubezhneftegaz relating to the Shaxpaxty gas field. The Russians agreed to invest $15 million in the construction of a new booster compressor station, permitting the resumption of production, with output targeted to rise from 200 million cubic metres in late 2004 to 400 million cubic metres in 2005 and eventually to 500 million cubic metres. The gas will be exported through the Central Asia-Centre gas pipeline via the state company CS “Qaraqalpaqia”.

During 2005 Gazprom (Russia) announced that it will start developing a $1.2 billion gas field in the Ustyurt region in Uzbekistan and plans to spend $1.5 billion to modernize natural gas pipelines in Central Asian states to boost natural gas exports from the region. The field in the Ustyurt region will be developed jointly with Uzbekneftegaz. The companies plan to eventually pump between 8 and 10 billion cubic metres of gas per year from the fields. It seems that this venture relates to five gas condensate fields in the Aqchalak region of the Ustyurt plateau, in the same region as the Shaxpaxty field. During 2005 the gossip in No'kis was all about the impending arrival of scores of Russians along with their wives and families and plans to build accommodation for them in the city.

During President Putin’s visit to Uzbekistan in June 2005 the Russian oil company Lukoil signed a 35-year deal promising to invest up to $1 billion in the Kandym, Khauzak, and Shady gas fields in the south of Uzbekistan. The fields have 280 billion cubic metres of proven reserves of natural gas. Lukoil will have a 90 percent share in the project.

In September 2005 an Investors Consortium was established in Tashkent between Uzbekneftegaz, Lukoil, Malaysia’s Petronas, Korea’s National Oil Corporation, and China’s CNPC International. Each participant has an equal participation share. The consortium plans to negotiate a new production-sharing agreement with the Uzbek government aimed at exploring and developing new gas fields in the Aral Sea Basin within Qaraqalpaqstan, including the bed of the Aral Sea. A production-sharing agreement is expected to be signed in 2006.

Uzbekistan's Uzbekneftegaz has also signed a 50-50 production-sharing agreement with Russia's Itera for exploration and development of new reserves.

Most recently Uzbekneftegaz has announced plans to build a gas processing plant based at the Surgil gas condensate field on the Ustyurt. This will make it possible to produce gas with a high level of purity, suitable for export to Russia. The Surgil field was discovered just over two years ago and has forecast reserves of about 150 billion cubic metres of natural gas.

Exploration and production is therefore set to continue at an accelerating pace in Qaraqalpaqstan over the coming decade as the region increases its contribution to the world supply of hydrocarbons. These activities are likely to improve communication links between Qaraqalpaqstan and the other major gas centres in the region and might even establish better air links across the Caspian Sea. It will also stimulate some regional economic development, especially in centres like No'kis and Qon'ırat.

Rock Salt or Sodium Chloride.

As the central low point of a vast expanse of western Central Asia, the Aral Sea Basin is a natural salt collector for the region. Major salt deposits tend to be concentrated in those shallow locations subject to continuous cycles of flooding and desiccation. In Qaraqalpaqstan the two major rock salt deposits are to be found in the Barsakelmes Lake on the Ustyurt plateau and in the Qaraumbet solonchak, a former gulf of the Aral Sea that has cut into the eastern cliff-face or tchink of the Ustyurt. The advantages of the latter deposit are its closeness to the limestone deposit at Jamansai, its proximity to the main railway line to Tashkent, and its accessibility from Qon'ırat.

The decision to exploit this deposit was made in the late 1990s and the Chinese company CITIC Pacific Ltd was selected to construct the plant on a turnkey basis for Uzkhimprom, Uzbekistan's former state chemical company. CITIC Pacific Ltd is part of CITIC Group, one of China’s biggest investment companies. At the beginning of 2001 Uzkhimprom was expanded to become Uzkimyosanoat, the new state chemical holding company. Uzkimyosanoat does not control any plants directly, these being managed through its various subsidiary operating companies.

Construction Progress on the Qon'ırat Soda Ash Plant in June 2005.

The total investment required is claimed to be around $100 million, although the “technological portion” of the project was reported to be $32 million. This was financed with a loan from China's ICBC with backing from China Export Insurance Corporation for $29 million, together with a loan from Uzbekistan's Uzpromstroibank for $3 million under Uzbek government guarantees. Uzkhimprom is financing the general construction work itself.

Construction commenced in 2002 and the plant was due to open in 2004, but this has now been delayed until 2005 because of unforeseen technological problems. The plant has the capacity to produce 100,000 tonnes of soda ash per annum.

The plant uses the multi-stage Solvay process in which carbon dioxide is generated from the combustion of limestone and is then passed though a solution of salt saturated with ammonia to produce sodium bicarbonate. The later is precipitated, extracted, and heated to produce sodium carbonate, commonly referred to as soda or soda ash. Soda ash is an important ingredient used for the manufacture of flat and container glass, detergents, paper, cement and for the purification of water. Until now Uzbekistan has imported its soda ash from Russia and the Ukraine.

Phosphate Rock

Qaraqalpaqstan has deposits of sedimentary phosphate rock, locally referred to as phosphorite. However these deposits are small compared to those found further east in the central Qizil Qum desert.

The Dzheroy phosphate field in neighbouring Navoi viloyati, has an estimated reserve of 300 million tonnes of phosphate rock at shallow depths of less than 50 metres. Recently new fields have been discovered at nearby Qarakat and North Dzhemitau. As such the Uzbek government have established the Qizil Qum Phosphorite Complex using German fertilizer manufacturing technology to manufacture concentrated phosphate fertilizers. The current reserves are estimated to satisfy Uzbekistan demand for the next 100 years.

The deposits within Qaraqalpaqstan do not justify the investment in chemical plant required to produce concentrated fertilizers. Instead plans were approved in 2001 to utilize unprocessed phosphate rock to produce crude organo-mineral fertilizers containing 12 to 15% of P205 equivalent, adding the crushed rock to composted vegetable material. The aim was to produce 200,000 tonnes of organo-mineral fertilizer per annum. This operation will be managed by Minselvodkhoz, the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Management.

Granite and Marble.

Quarried from the Ustyurt and processed at No'kis Marble Plant, Osiyo Granit, and Qaraqalpaq Mramor. Qaraqalpaq marble has been used in the construction of many high-status monuments and buildings in No'kis and some provincial towns, ranging from the plinth for Lenin’s Statue in former Red Square during Soviet times (now Friendship Square) to the Joqarg'i Ken'es parliament building. It has been used at No'kis Airport, the Berdaq Theatre, the new Central Bank building, the new Berdaq National Museum, and the new Qaraqalpaq State Museum of Art named after Savitsky.

There are also stone quarries on the edge of the Ustyurt north of Qon'ırat.

Other Mineral Resources

Road stone

The main mountain outcrop within Qaraqalpaqstan occurs in the south-east in the form of the Sultan Uvays Dag. This has been a long-term source of small quantities of gold, silver, and turquoise, but reserves are too small for commercial exploitation. The region has many quarries providing crushed stone for road and railway construction.


There are deposits of betonite clay in No'kis rayon. Betonite is a yellowish-green clay with many useful applications, ranging from waterproofing in major construction projects such as dams and reservoirs, the stabilization of soils, the lubrication of tunnel-cutting machinery and as a medicine for absorbing toxins from the digestive tract.

Kaolinite, sometimes called China Clay or fireclay, also occurs locally. It is a hydrous aluminum silicate (formed geologically by the weathering of anhydrous feldspar). It is mainly used as a coating in the production of glossy paper and in the manufacture of high quality ceramics, for example refractory materials such as fire-resistant linings for furnaces, chemical-resistant bricks, electrical isolators, water pipes, and porcelain. It is also used as a raw material for the production of alumina and aluminum.


There are unexploited iron ore and feldspar deposits at Tebinbulak in the Sultan Uvays Dag mountains to the south-east of No'kis. Tebinbulak is the location of an ancient intrusion of magma and has an unusual geology. It also includes quantities of iron-titanium oxides (titanomagnetites). There are no current plans to develop these reserves.

Until now the Uzbek steel industry has had to import iron ore, despite the presence of local deposits at Syuren-Ata in Tashkent region and at Temirken. Although the Temirken deposit is larger (54 million tonnes), the Syuren-Ata deposit (25 million tonnes) is accessible through open-pit mining and has a higher iron content. Plans to develop this site are being finalized in early 2006.


Promising copper deposits have been discovered in Qaraqalpaqstan. Only three copper deposits are currently exploited in Uzbekistan, all in the Almalyk region of Tashkent.

Titanium and magnesium ores

Considerable layers of these ores exist on the Ustyurt plateau but are currently unexploited.

Mineral salts and sulphates

Alabaster is a fine-grained, massive, translucent variety of gypsum, a hydrous calcium sulphate, which occurs in several deposits on the Ustyurt.


Talc is also found on the Ustyurt.

Phosphoric and erbium-doped metals

Qaraqalpaqstan is a supplier of phosphoric and erbium-doped metals. Erbium-doped materials are important in the manufacture of photonics components.


The unexploited Tebinbulak deposit of vermiculite in the Sultan Uvays Dag is estimated at 170,000 tonnes, with a vermiculite content of 10 to 11%. A second site to the east contains a raw vermiculite deposit of 300,000 tonnes. Vermiculite is an important raw material used for the production of thermo-isolating materials.

In March 2005 the Uzbek government authorized an $800,000 project to start the extraction of this mineral over the period 2006 to 2007. The project will be implemented by the Qaraqalpaq-based enterprise Vermita Ltd.

Gem Stones

Turquoise has been extracted from the Sultan Uvays Dag since ancient times.

Gold, Silver, and Uranium

There are major deposits of uranium and gold in the Qizil Qum desert. However once again, the main extraction centres lie to the east of the Qaraqalpaqstan border in neighbouring Navoi viloyati.

Uzbekistan is the world’s ninth largest gold producer and has the fifth largest reserves. Muruntau gold mine, close to Zeravshan, was opened in 1969 and is now one of the world’s biggest open-pit gold mines. It currently produces 90 tonnes of gold per annum and holds reserves of 2,250 tonnes. Newmont Mining of the USA formed a joint venture with the Uzbek government in 1992 to improve gold extraction at Muruntau, while Oxus Resources of the UK formed another in 1999 for the development of a new gold field at Amantaytau.

Uzbekistan is the only producer of uranium in the former Soviet Union and provided the majority of the uranium required during the Soviet period. Since Uzbekistan has no nuclear reactors of its own all production is exported. Uranium extraction falls under the responsibility of Navoi Mining and Metallurgy Combine.

Proven uranium reserves are about 80,000 tonnes, while estimated reserves are about 178,000 tonnes. These all lie in a belt stretching 400km across the Qizil Qum from Uchkuduk in the north-west to Nurabad in the south-east. Sugraly is one of Central Asia's biggest uranium fields and holds an estimated 38,000 tonnes of uranium. The development of the Sugraly deposit began in 2000, with the project having the potential to produce 1,000 tonnes per year.

However the Tien Shan gold belt continues westwards from Zeravshan and penetrates into Qaraqalpaqstan. Recent prospecting surveys have indicated the presence of potential deposits of gold, silver, and uranium within Qaraqalpaqstan, some located close to the surface, opening up the possibility of commercially viable open-cast mining operations in the future.

Electricity and Hydro-Power

Qaraqalpaqstan has two electricity generating stations, one gas-fired and one hydro-electric. Together they not only supply all of Qaraqalpaqstan’s electric power needs but provide surplus power for neighbouring Khorezm viloyati as well as for the Republic of Turkmenistan. Uzbekistan as a whole has 18 thermal power plants and 28 hydro-electric plants.

Taqıyatas Power Station is a 600 Megawatt thermal-electric generating station fired by natural gas. It has five generator units. However there are plans to reduce its capacity by 100 Megawatts over the coming years. In 2005 plans were announced for the privatization of a number of Uzbek thermal power stations, including 38.9% of Taqıyatas (equivalent to over $8 million). This minority holding is to be offered to foreign investors.

Tu'yemoyın Hydroelectric Plant is a 100 Megawatt hydro-powered generator based at the Tu'yemoyın (Camel’s Neck) Dam on the Amu Darya. The dam also creates a reservoir of 2,340 million cubic metres which provides water for irrigation and drinking. Two treatment plants filter and chlorinate the water prior to pumping it to the principal towns in western Uzbekistan. The reservoir supplies about 85 percent of the potable water for the area.

Qaraqalpaqstan has great potential for non-conventional (wind and sun) power generation.


1 billion cubic metres of gas is equivalent to 35.31 billion cubic feet of gas.

1 billion cubic metres of gas has the hydrocarbon equivalent of 29.3 million tons of oil.

1 ton of oil is about 7.5 barrels of oil.


Karimov, I., Uzbekistan on the Threshold of the Twenty-first Century, Tashkent, 1997.

Requia, K., Environmental Performance Review of Uzbekistan, Chapter 9, Mineral Resources, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, 2001.

Ulmishek, G F, Petroleum Geology and Resources of the North Ustyurt Basin, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, US Geological Survey Bulletin 2201-D, US Geological Survey, US Department of the Interior, Denver, 2001.

Ulmishek, G F, Petroleum Geology and Resources of the Amu Darya Basin, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Iran, US Geological Survey Bulletin 2201-H, US Geological Survey, US Department of the Interior, Virginia, 2004.

Return to top of page