Caspian-Mediterranean Oil Pipeline Launched In Baku

Radio Free Europe, Czech Republic
May 25 2005

Caspian-Mediterranean Oil Pipeline Launched In Baku
By Jean-Christophe Peuch

Work on BTC pipeline near Baku two years ago

Prague, 25 May 2005 (RFE/RL) — The 1,760-kilometer
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline to transport crude oil extracted from
the Caspian Sea shelf to the Mediterranean Sea basin was inaugurated
today near Azerbaijan’s capital Baku.

The leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and Kazakhstan joined oil
executives from nearly 40 countries at the opening ceremony for the
line, which bypasses Russia.

Addressing world energy executives at the Sangacal oil terminal, some
40 kilometers south of Baku, the Azerbaijani, Turkish, Georgian, and
Kazakh leaders spoke with one voice to underline the importance of
the new transport route.

Azerbaijan’s main oil-export conduit will connect Baku to the Turkish
Mediterranean port of Ceyhan via the Georgian capital Tbilisi. It
will be coupled with a natural-gas-export pipeline linking Baku,
Tbilisi, and Turkey’s eastern Anatolian city of Erzurum in 2006.

Construction of the U.S.-sponsored Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC)
started in 2001, and its final cost totaled well over the $3 billion
originally planned.

Presidents Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia and Heidar Aliyev of
Azerbaijan were the two main regional architects of the BTC.

Yet neither of the two leaders attended today’s ceremony.
Shevardnadze was deposed by peaceful opposition-led street protests
in November 2003, and Heidar Aliyev — after whom the Azerbaijani
section of the BTC was renamed — died nearly two years ago to be
succeeded by his son, Ilham.

Addressing reporters in Baku yesterday, Georgian President Mikheil
Saakashvili said both the BTC and its sister gas pipeline were of
utmost importance for his country — which until now has been heavily
dependent on Russia for its energy supplies.

“In practical terms, [BTC] and the [Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum] gas
pipeline are extremely important projects for Georgia,” Saakashvili
said. “When the gas pipeline is launched, the issue of Georgia’s
energy independence will be finally solved. Georgia will no longer
depend on a single source for its energy supplies. This is the most
important guarantor of our energy independence.”

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in turn thanked Azerbaijan’s
neighbors for contributing to making the immense project a reality.

“[It is the input of] regional cooperation and mutual understanding
that made this seemingly unrealistic project — the world’s largest
energy project, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline — come into life,”
Aliyev said.

Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said today that he is confident
the new pipeline will bring stability and economic gains to the
entire Southern Caucasus region. [For analysts’ opinions, click
here.]

“The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which is the most important
element of the East-West transport corridor — also known as the Silk
Road of the 21st century — makes an important contribution in
enhancing the stability and economic well-being of the entire
region,” Sezer said.

The BTC stretches 1,760 kilometers, including 440 kilometers through
Azerbaijan and 250 kilometers through Georgia. The pipeline is
designed to carry oil extracted from Azerbaijan’s sector of the
Caspian Sea by a BP-led international consortium comprising 11
companies.

It will take several months to fill the conduit.

Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Hilmi Guler told the
Anadolu news agency today that the first barrel of oil will not reach
its final destination until September.

BTC will be running at full capacity only in 2009, when production
reaches its peak in Azerbaijan. The pipeline will then carry an
expected 1 million barrels of oil per day.

Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced plans yesterday
to export part of its production through BTC under a scheme that
would involve the construction of an underwater pipeline linking the
Kazakh city port of Aktau to Baku.

Aliyev’s chief of staff Ramiz Mehdiyev said today that experts are
still working on a final document that should seal Kazakhstan’s
participation in the project.

Also today, the presidents of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Georgia signed
a joint declaration reaffirming their commitment to build a railway
connection between the Turkish city of Kars, near the Armenian
border, and Baku.

The line will go through Georgia’s predominantly Armenian region of
Samtskhe-Javakheti, and then on to Tbilisi.

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