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Caspian: Two Seas Conference Concentrates On Energy

By David Swanson

Istanbul, 26 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Government leaders, business executives and energy experts, meeting in Istanbul, are discussing the energy future of the Caspian and Black Seas - two areas now seen by many as pre-eminent energy regions of the 21st Century. The three-day conference, entitled "A Tale of Two Seas," will focus on oil, gas and electric power development for the region internationally. It also hopes to identify future investment opportunities in the energy sector.

Sponsored by the Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA), the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Council (BSEC) and the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey (DEIK), the forum hopes to bring world attention to this important geographical energy source.

One aspect of the conference, which began yesterday, focuses on gas and power, and the connections between the two sectors. The other focuses on the increase in regional oil production, the future of local petroleum markets, and the developing needs of oil transport.

Today's strategic discussions focus on the outlook for power demand growth in the Black Sea and Caspian Region; an analysis of power development and transmission opportunities; and an outlook for Caspian exploration and production. At the same time, regional officials and energy executives will provide background analysis on the prospects for existing projects and the outlook for new oil and gas potential.

Also today, discussions will be conducted on the implications of the convergence of the gas and power industries in the Black Sea and Caspian regions, as well as the current status and future prospects for northern and western pipeline routes from the Caspian region.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Daniel Yergin, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book "The Prize" and the current best seller "The Commanding Heights," explained that the world is changing from a government, state orientation to privatization and confidence in the markets. Yergin said that is why the issues of international cooperation are central to energy development at this week's conference.

As Yergin put it, "The Caspian is today a critical part of the hottest oil play in the world and, as such, is recognized as a major source of oil and gas, exerting immense importance on world markets." Yergin also said it is no longer a question of whether this market will be developed but, as he put it, "When?"

Many conference participants came from countries whose interest in the development of this region is growing. Anatoliv Holubchenko, First Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, said Ukraine, with oil processing capacities at a level of 53-million tons per year, is very interested in alternative ways of getting oil for domestic needs and for transport through Ukrainian territory to Europe. He said Ukraine's geographical position, its access to the Black Sea, and the operational system of oil pipelines could directly benefit countries like Poland, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Germany, Austria, and the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania).

RFE/RL Istanbul reports the energy issue is also especially pertinent to conference host Turkey, as it consumes about 30-million tons of oil a year, with a growth rate of two-to-three percent higher than other developing countries. Conference co-chairman Nihat Gokyigit, tells RFE/RL that Turkey is becoming a major energy corridor and terminal with more than $4.5 billion worth of investments in energy infrastructure per year.