Pipe dreams shattered in Georgia

26 September 2008

By Manana Kochladze, CEE Bankwatch Network

Western governments and international financial institutions like the World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) have tried to convince the region’s poor that oil pipelines in the Caucuses would bring economic prosperity and strengthen democracy in the region. However, this Caspian oil game is partly to blame for the increased poverty, conflict and misery that now plagues the thousands of citizens displaced in the August conflict in Georgia.

The construction of the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline (see Update 52, 46) in an unstable region like the Caucasus – with its existing ethnic, religious, political and military tensions – is a risky business. Despite numerous requests, the security risks and impacts on local populations were never adequately assessed by project sponsor, oil multinational BP.

In order to quell threats of a terrorist attacks, security zones and military forces were established along the pipeline route that ultimately exacerbated conflicts with local inhabitants. Just prior to the BTC pipeline’s “hot” August, while underlining that more efforts to return, reinstate and compensate for lost land in Azerbaijan and Georgia were needed, the EBRD requested even more land for security zones in Azerbaijan.

The Russian-Georgia conflict erupted just a few days after an attack and explosion along the Turkish section of the BTC pipeline. Russian jets bombed the pipeline near the town of Ristavi, creating more than 50 craters as missiles landed as close as one hundred metres from the pipeline itself. The following day the Baku-Supsa pipeline, the predecessor to BTC, was also bombed. Fires raged in numerous areas of the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park immediately following Russian military helicopter flights over the forested areas in the vicinity of the BTC pipeline.

It appears that troubles for the BTC pipeline continue, as the Russian News Agency reports that a feeder pipeline for BTC burst near the Baku terminal on 12 September.

BP and Russian Premier Vladimir Putin fiercely deny that Russia’s actions have damaged the pipeline. Mr. Putin even states that “We are treating our energy facilities carefully and we do not intend to cause damage to anything. We do not have and will never have such an aim”. While it is difficult to know what is happening behind closed doors, it is clear that poorly constructed pipelines in an unstable region of the world are a new front line for attacks and pose a threat to local people and the environment.