Accessibility links

Breaking News

Caucasus: Environmentalist Says BTC Pipeline Could Be 'Death Of Caspian'

Manana Kochladze (Courtesy Photo) PRAGUE, July 12, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Since its inception, environmentalists have rallied against the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyan (BTC) pipeline, which pumps Caspian oil to the Turkish Mediterranean. They say there is a serious risk of oil leaks and spills, as the pipeline passes through a region with a history of seismic activity and landslides. Manana Kochladze is a Georgian environmental activist, who works as the Caucasus coordinator for the monitoring organization, CEE Bankwatch. In 2004, she won the Goldman Prize -- known as the environmental equivalent of the Nobel award -- for her grassroots campaigning against the pipeline. RFE/RL correspondent Luke Allnutt spoke to her about her work.

RFE/RL: What are you main concerns, environmental or otherwise, about the BTC pipeline?

Manana Kochladze: First of all, the concern is the routing of the pipeline, which goes through a number of sensitive areas, including the Borjomi region in Georgia. And any type of oil spill in those sensitive areas could cause huge environmental results, like pollution of the drinking water, pollution of the rivers, and pollution of the mineral water in the Borjomi region. And due to the fact that the pipeline construction was not implemented according to the best international standards, the risks for the corrosion of the pipeline is very high.

RFE/RL: But BP [which heads the consortium that owns the pipeline] has assured that state-of-the-art technology has been used and that the pipeline is safe.

Kochladze: According to the experts, with the technology that the BTC is using, which has never been used in the petroleum industry before, the corrosion of the pipes would happen seven or eight years after the pipeline is in operation. So it's increasing the environmental risks for the region.

RFE/RL: How much do you think that BP has listened to environmental concerns? For instance, they've held meetings with NGOs about their worries. Do you think they've done enough?

Kochladze: The main problem was that during those meetings, there was no dialogue. It was a BP monologue [about] how they are doing the best pipeline project in the region. And the very serious concerns of the environmental groups, including the WWF International, and the regional offices has never been taken into account. First of all, all the routing [of the pipeline] was done without any public consultation. So all the environmental-impact assessments were done afterwards. [Then the assessments] were like the approval of why they chose this route [instead] of a real environmental-impact assessment where you can have a number of alternatives and afterwards you can choose the most suitable and environmentally friendly pipeline....

Pipeline construction in the Borjomi Valley

We always underlined that Azerbaijani [oil is not enough] to feed the BTC pipeline. We asked them [BP] to show where the oil would come from and we had serious concerns about the fact that the oil would come from Kazakhstan from the newly discovered fields like Kashaganor the existing Tenghiz [field]. And in June of this year our fears have been proved by the signing of an agreement between Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. In this case, the Caspian Sea would be under the same environmental threat just like the Bosphorus [Straits].So what the BTC pipeline is doing now is taking the problem from the Bosphorus and adding it to the Caspian Sea. So in this case BP's argument that the pipeline is environmentally friendly because it will reduce the [shipping] traffic in the Bosphorus does not work anymore because they are shifting all the problems to another sea. And the Caspian Sea is a very vulnerable environmental ecosystem. It's a closed sea, it's very much polluted, all the oil extraction is there, and if tanker traffic accidents were to be added to this it would really be the death of the Caspian Sea.

RFE/RL: How have local communities been affected along the pipeline route?

Kochladze: The situation in the local communities is quite harsh. At least in Georgia, we've had 300 demonstrations, direct actions, and blockages from the side of the local people and they've tried to prevent the BTC construction on their territories. In the Borjomi region, there are still a lot of people who are complaining about land compensation [not] being done properly. They determined the problem of the drinking water already because the construction damaged the spring waters they used for drinking....

Another problem is that the people claim, in a lot of the villages including in the Borjomi region and also in Azerbaijan, that traffic vibrations have destroyed their houses. But the BTC [consortium] is refusing [to accept] that the traffic vibrations have done this with these houses. You can not prove that harm has been done by now people are in a very bad situation right now. They don't know to whom to apply to solve their problems like this.

RFE/RL: Now that the pipeline is constructed and oil is flowing through, what mechanisms do environmental activists have to monitor the BTC pipeline?

Kochladze: If there would be any leakages from the pipeline we would support the local communities or the affected people to get compensation and we will try to ensure that the environment [affected] will be rehabilitated and restored. The problem here is that according to the host country government agreement, which is the legal regime for the BTC pipeline, the local communities, or affected peoples, they are not party to the agreements. So if something would happen with the BTC pipeline it would be really very difficult for them [local people] to get compensation or [repair] the environment. So I think that this is our main challenge right now.

Caspian Energy Special

Caspian Energy Special

For a complete archive of RFE/RL's coverage of energy issues in the Caspian Sea region and Russia, click here.

HOW MUCH OIL? The U.S. Energy Information Administration has estimated that the Caspian could hold between 17 billion and 33 billion barrels of proven oil. ("Proven reserves" are defined by energy experts to be 90 percent probable.) Other experts estimate the Caspian could hold "possible reserves" of up to 233 billion barrels of oil. ("Possible reserves" are considered to be 50 percent probable.) By comparison, Saudi Arabia has 261 billion barrels of oil and the United States 23 billion...(more)

See also:

Economic Forecast For 2006 Sees Growth, But Danger In Continued High Oil Prices

How Vast Are The Riches In The Caspian?

Experts Envision A Future Beyond Oil