BP’s Caspian pipeline – an end or a beginning?

Article 26 Jul 2005 admin

This report was first published in Platform’s carbon web newsletter, Issue 1.

BP’s official inauguration of its BakuTbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline in May contained in a nutshell the controversy of the last ten years – and a glimpse of what can be expected over the next forty. As BP’s PR machine was telling positive stories of ‘the new silk road’, prodemocracy demonstrators were recovering from a violent clampdown by Azerbaijan’s riot police – in the capital Baku – four days earlier. Up to 100 people were arrested, and the offices of opposition party: the Azerbaijan Popular Front were stormed.

Throughout its planning, the BTC pipeline has always been a political project – embodying US geopolitical designs on the region, at the expense of democracy, human rights and the environment. Azerbaijan’s autocratic President, like his father before him, has built his political power on the back of his relationship with Western oil interests.

The inauguration of 25th May will be one of several ‘inaugurations’ expected over the coming months, as BP seeks to convince the public that the pipeline is complete and the issues that it raises are resolved. However, construction is not over. The on-going building of pumping stations, of associated infrastructure, and of the parallel South Caucasus Gas Pipeline, will continue to disrupt the lives of thousands until at least 2008. For all BP’s claims of closure, for human rights in the region and for the ecology of the Caucasus, the real threat is only just beginning.
The pipeline is set to exacerbate human rights violations in the region as governments clamp down on any signs of dissent against their new ‘national asset’. Ferhat Kaya, a human rights lawyer in Eastern Turkey, who has struggled to remedy the poor compensation given to farmers, has repeatedly been arrested and he has suffered physical abuse at the hands of the Turkish police. Meanwhile, BP has chosen a faulty corrosion protection coating, which corrosion experts say make leaks inevitable. Areas of fragile ecology such as the Borjomi region will be continually under threat from oil spills; a threat that could ruin Georgia’s biggest export-commodity, Borjomi mineral water.

At a global level too, the threat increases. The oil which the pipeline feeds to Western consumers will add about 170 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year to the Earth’s atmosphere – over 30% of the UK’s annual emissions – locking us into dangerous levels of climate change. These impacts and others are not just incidental – they are built in by a draconian legal regime, negotiated between the company and the host governments, which guarantees the rate of oil flow by empowering governments’ security forces, while disempowering their regulatory functions.

Nor is it a ‘done deal’ for London-based institutions – such as BP, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Department for International Development and Royal Bank of Scotland – or for other international financial institutions such as the World Bank. To those institutions’ embarrassment, many of the concerns raised by the campaign recently received corroboration from an unlikely source – the US government. Its development agency USAID wrote in a report that serious deficiencies in the project environmental impact assessment – which USAID had raised with financial institutions prior to their decisions to back the project – remained unresolved.

The Baku-Ceyhan Campaign, including PLATFORM, Friends of the Earth, Cornerhouse and Kurdish Human Rights Project, has pledged to continue supporting affected communities along the pipeline route, monitoring the impact of the project and holding UK institutions to account for their role in the project. The pipeline is not complete when construction ends: it will be a danger for the next forty years. In many ways, the campaign is only just beginning.

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