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The pipeline that will change the world

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/story.jsp?story=641172 The pipeline that will change the world It is 42 inches wide, 1,090 miles long and is intended
    Message 1 of 1 , May 25, 2005
      http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/story.jsp?story=641172

      The pipeline that will change the world

      It is 42 inches wide, 1,090 miles long and is intended
      to save the West from relying on Middle Eastern oil.
      Nothing has been allowed to stand in its way - and it
      finally opens today
      By Daniel Howden and Philip Thornton

      25 May 2005

      The first drops of crude will snake their way along a
      pipeline that traverses some of the most unstable and
      war-ravaged countries on earth. This is the oil flow
      that was meant to save the West, and this morning the
      taps were turned on.

      Only 42 inches wide, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan was
      supposed to alter global oil markets forever. The
      1,000-mile project has transformed the geopolitics of
      the Caucasus and its impact is now being felt in the
      vastness of central Asia.

      Output is supposed to reach one million barrels a day
      - more than 1 per cent of world production - from an
      underground reserve that could hold as many as 220
      billion barrels.

      Its architects and investors claimed the pipeline
      would shore up energy supplies in the US and Europe
      for 50 years, protecting our gas-guzzling way of life
      and easing our reliance on the House of Saud.

      The goal of the ambitious project, which makes its
      tortuous way from the Caspian in Azerbaijan, through
      Georgia to the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, is to
      ease the reliance of the West on the Organisation of
      Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and bring cheaper
      fuel to our filling stations. The pipe threads its way
      through the region in a seemingly modest private
      corridor only 50 yards wide but nothing has been
      allowed to stand in its way. From forests to labour
      laws and endangered species to democracy protesters:
      all have given way to the costliest and most
      significant pipeline ever built.

      The project, known as BTC, has driven a wedge between
      the US and Russia, triggered political unrest in the
      countries it passes through and their neighbours and
      sparked concern at extensive damage to the
      environment.

      Since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the
      US, concern at the West's dependence on Persian Gulf
      oil has intensified. For Washington, the opening is a
      cause for celebration. "We view this as a significant
      step forward in the energy security of that region,"
      said Samuel Bodman, the American energy secretary, who
      stood next to the three heads of state at today's
      ceremony.

      With him at the pumping station controls was the
      president of the tiny former Soviet republic of
      Azerbaijan. The BTC has allowed Ilham Aliev to become
      a firm friend of the West while overseeing a
      government condemned for human rights abuses and
      sitting at the head of an administration placed 140
      out of 146 in Transparency International's global
      corruption index.

      The politics of the pipeline have also changed the
      face of Georgia, where the battle for control with
      Russia saw immense US influence deployed in support of
      the so-called "Rose Revolution". The popular protest
      ushered the American-educated Mikhail Saakashvili into
      power two years ago. Washington's new ties with
      Tbilisi were amply demonstrated when George Bush
      became the first US president to visit the country
      earlier this month.

      In the long-term US ally Turkey, where the pipeline
      crucially delivers its oil direct to the Mediterranean
      - bypassing the tanker-clogged Bosphorus straits, it
      is no accident that it does so right next to the
      American airbase at Incirlik.

      When big oil companies turned their attentions to the
      potential Caspian energy reserves released from behind
      the collapsing walls of the Soviet Union, the region
      was billed as the "new Middle East". If only the
      reserves could be securely transported from the
      landlocked sea to the Mediterranean, the West would be
      gifted a vital alternative to the volatile Persian
      Gulf and the region would be freed from the iron grip
      of Russia, which had previously monopolised the export
      routes of their former Soviet satellites.

      Once the Soviet empire fell, the Caspian found itself
      surrounded by five nation states - Azerbaijan, Iran,
      Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan.

      The region's supply of cheap oil and key position on
      the historic border between the West and the East
      meant that countries quickly moved into position like
      pieces on a chessboard.

      Three rival plans were drawn up - a northern route
      through Russia, a southern alternative through Iran
      and the central option through the Caucasus to the
      Mediterranean.

      The winner could be in little doubt: the middle road
      was the only one which guaranteed Washington and its
      corporate allies a corridor of control.

      The US Vice-President Dick Cheney, who was then chief
      executive of oil services giant Halliburton, was among
      the first to be swept away in the excitement.

      "I cannot think of a time when we have had a region
      emerge as suddenly to become as strategically
      significant as the Caspian," he said in 1998.

      Now, more than a decade and $4bn (�2.2bn) later,
      almost three quarters of which came from bank loans
      which were underwritten by government agencies and
      �320m in taxpayers' money, the pipeline is open. But
      this chapter of what Rudyard Kipling called the "Great
      Game" - the secret battle to dominate central Asia -
      has only reached the end of its first phase.

      The fanfare at the British oil giant BP's gleaming new
      terminal at Sangachal in Azerbaijan may yet prove to
      be premature.

      Stripped of the American hype of the 1990s, the crude
      that began a very modest flow this morning is the
      first instalment of a reserve many analysts are now
      convinced is actually only 32 billion barrels -
      equivalent to that of a small Gulf player such as
      Qatar.

      The game now moves to the transCaspian pipeline and to
      the immense plains of Turkmenistan and the political
      cauldron of Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and beyond.
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