Controversy flows as BTC pipeline declared open

The controversial Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline received an inaugural 'opening ceremony' this week, in Baku the capital city of Azerbaijan.

The 1,770 kilometre pipeline will ultimately carry one million barrels of oil a day – over one per cent of global production – from the BP-operated Azeri Chirag Gunashli (ACG) oilfield in the Caspian Sea to the eastern Mediterranean port of Ceyhan in Turkey.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, which was attended by the Presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and Kazakhstan, Lord Browne, chief executive of BP, described the pipeline as “an heroic engineering achievement”.

“The pipeline opens up massive new fields in the Caspian Sea to world markets, enhancing security of supply for decades to come. And it does so in a way that avoids the transit of large numbers of tankers through the narrow and congested Bosphorous,” he said.

The £2.2 billion pipeline has attracted controversy since its conception as nothing has been allowed to stand in the way of its construction. Environmentalists and local villagers along the route in all three countries have complained about a lack of consultation with the public, a lack of investment in communities affected, and a lack of concern for the health and safety of the workers and the wider environment.

Last July, work was suspended on the pipeline over allegations that BP had failed to obtain the necessary environmental certification to proceed with the project (see related story).

This week, two reports, released ahead of the opening of the pipeline, reiterated the social and environmental concerns. Campaigners say the reports contain leaked documents detailing disputes between the Georgian government, oil company BP and international financial institutions regarding many of these concerns.

Manana Kochladze, of CEE Bankwatch, one of the NGOs who produced the reports, said the developments around the construction of the pipeline proved the socio-environmental risks highlighted by environment groups.

“These risks have been rashly neglected by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and the EBRD and as a result, the number of violations and breaches of international standards is growing, putting the people and environment along the pipeline at ever greater risk.”

By David Hopkins

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