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Officials Inaugurate U.S.-Backed Pipeline

Gegraphic map of the pipeline.
by Andrea R. Mihailescu
Washington (UPI) May 25, 2005
Officials Wednesday began filling the U.S.-backed $3.6 billion Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline transporting Caspian crude to western markets. Leaders from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Turkey inaugurated the pipeline at the opening ceremony at an oil terminal near the Azeri capital of Baku.

Despite opposition to the pipeline, a few Russian representatives were present at the ceremony.

The pipeline received opposition from many. Opposing any route that would bypass Russian territory, Russians unsuccessfully lobbied for their own pipeline route passing through Chechnya and Novorossiysk.

Iran also expressed its dissatisfaction with the pipeline as it sought its own territory as the optimum route for the passage of Caspian oil.

For Arab monarchies, an alternative source of energy resources on the global market was a serious blow.

"We have managed to do this. We have done it," Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said during the opening ceremony. "Some people didn't think it was possible, some treated the project with suspicion, while others even wanted to impede this. But none of these worked. Thanks to our friends and neighbors - the union of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia - the assistance of the U.S. to the project ... "

Although the 1,100-mile pipeline may alleviate some western dependence on Middle East oil, the BTC faces a number of security challenges. One of the major challenges is the potential escalation over Nagorno Karabakh, which was overtaken by ethnic Armenian separatists over a decade ago.

Other issues include possible crime along the BTC's route such as local tapping into the pipeline or environmentalists attack it.

In August, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey will conduct joint exercises in an effort to ensure the security of the pipeline, according to the Georgian defense ministry.

The militaries of the three countries will receive training on how to prevent terror attacks, acts of sabotage and environmental catastrophes along the pipeline route.

In case of sabotage or an environmental catastrophe on the territory of either of the transit countries, the military of the other two countries will provide assistance.

"Longstanding U.S. policy has been that the governments of the region are responsible for the security of the pipelines on their territory," Steven Mann, senior U.S. official responsible for Caspian pipelines, told UPI. "The United States can provide training and advice, but pipeline security is a national responsibility."

Georgia hired the Northrop Group to develop an aerial monitoring system along the pipeline's route and its adjacent area. Georgia received radar systems similar to those the U.S. currently uses in Afghanistan, according to Giorgi Chanturia, president of the Georgian International Oil Corporation.

The pipeline has a capacity to transport approximately 50 million tons annually. Currently standing at 95 percent completion, it will take 10 million barrels to fill the pipeline before pumping can begin.

Under the agreement, the pipeline project is supposed to be completed in the first six months of 2005. For each day late, contractors would have to pay a fine of $500,000.

Energy experts believe the pipeline contains the world's third-largest oil and gas reserves.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2005 by United Press International. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by United Press International. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of by United Press International.

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