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BTC Environmental Concerns Reconsidered

Since the route for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was chosen in 1999, environmentalist groups have campaigned against the project for allegedly threatening the environment in the Caspian and along its route. However, the BP-led BTC consortium that built the export corridor to the Mediterranean has maintained that the BTC is one of the most environmentally safe pipelines in the world. Recently, there has been discussion in the international press about the possibility of pipeline corrosion along the BTC, similar to that which shut down production at BP's Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska last summer. However, much of this discussion has failed to take the overall context of the BTC project into account.
 


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Since the route for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was chosen in 1999, environmentalist groups have campaigned against the project for allegedly threatening the environment in the Caspian and along its route. However, the BP-led BTC consortium that built the export corridor to the Mediterranean has maintained that the BTC is one of the most environmentally safe pipelines in the world. Recently, there has been discussion in the international press about the possibility of pipeline corrosion along the BTC, similar to that which shut down production at BP's Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska last summer. However, much of this discussion has failed to take the overall context of the BTC project into account.

Among energy giants, BP is known for having one of the best track records regarding environmental friendliness. The company spends approximately $1 billion a year on alternative energy programs and complied with Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas emission mandates seven years ahead of schedule. But, regarding the BP-operated BTC, environmentalists cite the several seismic faults the pipeline crosses as oil spill risks. However, BP has experience operating in seismically active areas, so the BTC was placed at angles across fault lines and packed in gravel to allow for movement. To protect against corrosion, the pipeline is coated with a three-layer polyethylene system, subject to rigorous tests. Even the water shot down the pipeline at great pressure to test its integrity was disposed of in an environmentally safe manner.

Before and during construction, the BTC consortium implemented a number of Environmental and Social Impact Assessments for the pipeline. This process involved consultations with communities affected by the construction, NGOs, government agencies and academics. The assessments were then used to craft Environmental and Social Action Plans, which addressed in detail everything from emissions management to the planting of trees and shrubs as part of land reinstatement, and served as guides for the implementation of construction efforts. Construction was even phased so as not to disturb the seasonal migrations of certain bird species.

Environmentalists claim that because of Kazakhstan's decision to export oil through the BTC, the Caspian Sea would be under the same environmental threat as the Bosporus. Turkey is seeking to avoid increased tanker traffic in the Bosporus because the risk of an accident in the narrow straits increases as it gets more crowded. However, this is because the Bosporus is only 700 meters wide in some places. Tanker traffic would have to pass through no such tight spaces in the Caspian, as it is mostly open sea. Environmental precautions are taken, however, such as the use of double-hulled tankers.

To say that the BTC project will be the "death of the Caspian", as Georgian environmentalist activist Manana Kochladze claims, is incorrect. According to its report, the independent Caspian Development Advisory Panel, charged with reviewing BP's practices in the region, is pleased with the "European standards" to be implemented in the shipment of oil across the Caspian. In fact, in August 2006, a Caspian environmental protection treaty, signed by all of the littoral states in 2003, came into force. Building on the UN/World Bank initiated Caspian Environment Programme, established in 1995, the 2003 agreement obligates all signatories to cooperate on reducing pollution and restoring the environment of the Caspian.

In keeping with BP's environmentally friendly reputation, the BTC consortium has implemented Environmental Investment Programmes in all three pipeline countries. Designed to go beyond merely mitigating against risks associated with infrastructure construction, these programmes range from creating a strategic management plan for Gobustan National Park and restoring the Tugai forest in Azerbaijan, to funding environmental education programs for villagers living near Borjomi National Park, to supporting ecologically safe wetlands management and conservation of endangered species in Turkey.

These are just a few of the many projects included in the $10 million program. The reality in both Georgia and Azerbaijan is that decades of Soviet mis-development left much of the environment scarred and polluted. BP's efforts are not only mitigating the effects of BTC construction, but are also serving to improve the overall environmental situation in the Caucasus.

In past interviews, Kochladze has faulted the host-country agreement between BP and the Georgian government for excluding the opinions of local communities. As part of the agreement, however, BP has deployed Georgian Community Liaison Officers to listen to and address the concerns of those living along the route. During the pipeline's construction many local disputes were resolved this way. For example, of the 396 complaints that BP received in Azerbaijan in 2005, only 35 remained unresolved going into 2006. In Georgia, the agreement also provided a key security role for locals, as many were recruited to serve as part of horse patrols to monitor the pipeline's right-of-way.

In a statement released to coincide with the BTC's July inauguration, Kochladze's organization, CEE Bankwatch, an advocacy group that monitors international financial institutions, said the project, "paints a desperate picture of destruction, abuse and betrayal", facilitated by the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Not mentioned are the geopolitical and economic benefits for the region from a pipeline that avoids Russia and the Middle East, the 15 World Bank environmental and social safeguard policies applied to the project, the estimated 10,000 jobs created by its construction, or any aspects of the BP environmental protection programmes mentioned above.

When looking into environmental concerns regarding the BTC pipeline, activists and casual observers would do well to familiarize themselves with the overall picture, which indicates that the project has set a high standard of environmental and social protection.

 


 

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