Authored by James Marriott of Platform drawing on the collective experience of so many others in Platform and the multiple organisations we’ve collaborated with.
Prompted by an invitation from the Climate Cultures Festival in Berlin to speak about Crude Britannia and The Oil Road, co-authored with Mika Minio-Paluello, I returned to the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline and the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline.
Platform was among a host of groups and individuals – including The Corner House, Re:Common, Bankwatch, Friends of the Earth, Green Alternative, Kurdish Human Right Project and Amnesty International who worked hard to prevent construction of these pipelines between 2001 and 2017. We got close to stopping the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, closer than we knew at the time. And we did ensure that some changes to the engineering and legal construction took place. But in the end this oil machine running through the mountains was opened in June 2006.
I took the chance to link up with allies Manana Kochladze in Georgia, and Elena Gerebizza in Italy, and reworked a passage describing the journey of oil from the Caspian to Germany:
‘DEUTSCHE TRANSALPINE OELLEITUNG GMBH’, proclaims the sign on the chain-link gates of a compound just north of the city limits of Ingolstadt, Bayern. This is the property of DTO, based in Munchen – one of three companies that own the Transalpine pipeline that runs from Italy, through Austria to Germany. The seven massive oil tanks of the Lenting depot were visible from some distance as we’d cycled here, nestled alongside the area’s third refinery, known as Kosching and owned by the Swiss company Petropolus.
The sun is hot on the surrounding fields of winter wheat. Despite the rumble of the nearby E45 autobahn, the noise of passenger jets passing overhead and the roar of the gas flare from the refinery, we can hear Skylarks singing.
There is no one at the entrance cabin of the Lenting depot, but somewhere on this site somebody is watching one of the meters that register the flow of the river that runs from the middle of the Caspian Sea to Southern Germany. At precisely this time, as we idle on the roadside, other people are watching meters in other control rooms in Sangachal – Azerbaijan, Ceyhan – Turkey and San Dorglio – Italy.
It takes minutes for the pressurised oil from the Pliocene sandstone layer to move up the riser to the drill deck of the Central Azeri platform in the Caspian Sea. Within the next few hours the oil has passed through the pipe across the seabed to the Sangachal Terminal on the coast of Azerbaijan. Here it is joined by oil that has been pumped in from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. A further ten days sees it move through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, through the deserts and mountains, fields and villages of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Eastern Turkey. At Ceyhan it is loaded onto tankers. Four and half days aboard the ship and thousands of barrels are moved across the Aegean, Ionian and Adriatic seas. If this load is not delayed at the tank farm of San Dorligo near Trieste, it takes three days for the heavy liquid to be pumped over the Alps at the Plockenpass and the Hohe Tauern to Lenting. From the depot in front of us the crude passes to a refinery such as Kosching. Over a period of two days it will be broken down into heating oil, petrol or diesel – products that are then pumped and trucked onwards to factories, homes and petrol stations. Some of the crude is refined into aviation fuel and supplied to airports such as Munchen, where it might fill the tanks of a 747 bound for India.
It takes twenty-two days for this process to run its course – for the oil to travel over 5,000 kilometres across the Earth’s surface, and for it to move from 5 kilometres below sea level to 10 kilometres above sea level; twenty-two days for geology laid down 4 million years ago to be incinerated into gas. The energy of those rocks takes seconds for the jets engines to burn. It is as though we are consuming time itself.
This machine drives forward minute by minute, hour by hour, a vast system transferring carbon from the lithosphere to the atmosphere.
It has been fully operational for over fifteen years, since the Ceyhan terminal opened in June 2006. In that time the terminal has loaded five and half thousand tankers, carrying over three and a half billion barrels of oil, equivalent to over a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.
A sizable proportion of those tankers have been aimed at Italy and the carbon has been released into the atmosphere over Germany.
What struck me as I read this was how the world had changed since the terminal opened and The Oil Road was published in 2012.
Here was a project that was conceived during the last year of the Thatcher government, guided into reality under the Major government and was opened under the third Blair government. As we describe in Crude Britannia, BTC was fundamentally the child of BP CEO John Browne, but part-financed by a host of public and private banks in Europe, the USA, France and Germany.
In the fifteen years since it opened many of the achievements of those UK governments have largely been discarded or forgotten. And attitudes to fossil fuels have shifted. For example on 3rd November 2021 at COP26 the UK, the US and 18 other nations signed a statement committing to end funding for foreign oil, gas and coal projects.
But the BTC pipeline, the oil wells that fill it from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, and the tankers that fan out from Ceyhan – they all continue to operate. And they are planned to operate until 2047.
Alongside this Oil Road has been built a Gas Road. The Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline has been laid across Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Albania and Italy to pump gas into the Western European system – fuel for domestic stoves and power stations from Italy to Germany and beyond. Despite bitter opposition – especially by citizens of Melendugno, Southern Italy – the last section of the pipe was opened only 11 months ago and is planned to drive fossil fuels into the European economy for several decades.
There are signs that the oil & gas industry is being forced to turn away from its impulse to continually expand – witness the civil society and now governmental pressure against new fields in the UK North Sea and the launch of the Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance at COP26. But meanwhile this actually-existing oil system of BTC – like so many others – is set to continue to pump its carbon load into the atmosphere for another twenty-five years. The oil machine lumbers on.
And the impact of that carbon load is showing itself ever more clearly. Manana Kochladze explains to me: ‘Georgia becomes really sensitive due to climate change, in the last two years we have some fires in forests even in winter due to lack of water and snow’. In the Summer of 2021 there were wildfires throughout the regions through which the oil from the Caspian is passed on its way to Germany – in southern Turkey, Greece, southern Italy. It is as though the Oil Road is being turned into a Fire Road.
How long will this continue? Will the ever-growing wild fires impact on the infrastructure itself? Or will they press so hard upon civil society and governments that they in turn will push for the system to be put out of use prior to its planned point of closure? Will there be a Just Transition to step back from The Oil Road and The Gas Road? How will it be decommissioned before its end of use? Will the pipelines be unearthed from the meadows and forests, the fields and villages, brought back into the daylight and discarded?
In honour of the work of Elena Gerebiza, Nick Hildyard, Petr Hlobil, Emma Hughes, Manana Kochladze, Greg Muttitt, Jo Ram, Sarah Shoraka, Antonio Tricarico and many others. And thanks to Ben Lennon, Mika Minio-Palluelo and Terry Macalister.
 The Kosching Refinery belonged to Petroplus when it went bankrupt and filed for insolvency on 24th January 2012 – after The Oil Road had been written. Kosching was acquired by the Swiss-based oil trading company, Gunvor on 24th August 2012.
 John Browne was CEO of BP from 1995 to 2007. He had previously been the head of BP Exploration & Production and was at the forefront of trying to obtain oil assets in Soviet Union just before its dissolution. After being forced to resign from BP, Browne went onto to be appointed by the Cameron-Clegg government to Lead Non-Executive Director of the Civil Service. In this role he oversaw the infamous Higher Education inquiry known as the Browne Review.
 Public banks: EBRD, World Bank/IFC, Hermes, ECGD, OPIC. Private banks: RBS, Societe Generale, Citibank, Hypovereinsbank, West LB
 Also known by its constituent parts as the SCP, TANAP and TAP – see: https://bankwatch.org/project/southern-gas-corridor-euro-caspian-mega-pipeline
 The opposition was led by the No TAP alliance and several activists are facing court cases and requesting support for their legal costs. Please support them: https://www.facebook.com/MovimentoNoTAP