BTC pipeline could bring more energy and freedom to Europe

Jul 13, 2006 02:00 AM

by Dorian Jones

Officials from more than 20 countries attended the official opening of the world's second-longest oil pipeline in Ceyhan, Turkey. It provides Europe with an energy alternative to the Middle East and Russia.
The EUR 3-bn ($ 3.9 bn) Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline project was opened at the Turkish Mediterranean port. The event, however, is not only significant for British oil giant BP who is directing the pipeline project.

Attending the ceremony were leaders from over 20 countries in the region that are expected to profit from oil and gas revenues. Turkey, where the pipeline terminates, has an increasing appetite for energy, but the United States and Europe also have a vested interest in the BTC project also.
"We understand very well the significance of the BTC project and we have conducted delicate energy diplomacy for its successful implementation," said Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler, adding that the pipeline "will not only bring Turkey big economic benefits, but also huge political dividends."

Bottlenecks and geopolitical hotspots being avoided
The 1,760-km pipeline, the second-longest in the world, will deliver more than a million barrels of oil per day by 2008. The oil comes from the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. The region used to be part of the former Soviet Union and that is why this pipeline is seen as having not only economic importance but political as well.
For the United States, one of the pipeline's main political backers, it is seen as a crucial step not only to unlocking urgently needed resources but also to giving the energy-rich region greater independence from its former Russian master.

Crucially it avoids the volatile Middle East, giving world markets an important alternative supply. But the pipeline also breaks Russia’s monopoly on the distribution of energy for former Soviet Union states.
"The pipelines do not only bring energy security they bring hope," said David Gorokva, head of the Georgian gas and oil corporation. "Countries like us are not secure despite the fact of the Rose Revolution, it is all going to die one day if there are no secure energy resources and I think we should take this into consideration."

Political implications in Caucasus great
Last winter, Russia without warning doubled the prices of energy to both Georgia and the Ukraine after pro-Russian administrations were ousted by mass protests. Russia claimed the price hike simply mirrored market prices, but Washington blasted the move accusing Moscow of strong-armed tactics. Europe at once felt very dependent on the goodwill of Russia.
Both Democratic and Republican administrations have strongly backed the new pipeline as a means of breaking Moscow's iron grip on the region. Much to Moscow's irritation, US Special Forces have been sent to Georgia to help protect the pipeline as the region is one of most volatile in the world.

Russia maintains a strong military presence in the Caucasus region, which the pipeline passes through. The region is strewn with ethnic rivalries and unresolved conflicts. In Georgia, there are two breakaway states, which fought Georgian forces to a standstill in the 1990s. An uneasy ceasefire also exists between neighbouring Armenia and Azerbaijan.
"This region has always been volatile if you look at the history and it still is and there is big potential for future conflicts," said Tatiana Mitrova, an energy security expert and adviser to the Russian presidency. "There are many rivals who want to gain control over the region because it is the heart of Eurasia, and it is the future growth road of all energy routes. But I am afraid that as the whole political tension is getting stronger and stronger, tension in this region will also rise."

The success of the BTC pipeline ultimately depends on the stability of one of world's most volatile regions.
Without stability, the long-term dreams of Turkey and the US of opening up a secure east-west energy corridor that exports oil and gas and imports independence and security to former Soviet states will remain unfulfilled.

Source: Deutsche Welle
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