Azerbaijan has inaugurated the first phase of the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) project aimed at transporting natural gas from the Caspian Sea to Europe, bypassing Russia.
"With this project we are creating a new energy map of Europe," President Ilham Aliyev said on May 29 at the opening ceremony near the Azerbaijani capital, Baku.
During the event attended by Western dignitaries, Aliyev turned on the taps at the Sangachal gas terminal.
The Southern Gas Project aims to transport gas 3,500 kilometers from the Caspian Sea to Europe, which is looking to reduce its reliance on Russian supplies.
The project comprises three linked pipelines that will bring gas from Azerbaijan’s vast Shah Deniz 2 natural gas field across Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Albania, and the Adriatic Sea to Italy.
It is expected to bring around 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Europe a year starting in 2020. Another 6 billion cubic meters of gas will go to Turkey.
The expanded South Caucasus Pipeline (SCP) will transport gas from Azerbaijan to Turkey, where it will feed into the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP). From Turkey, the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) will take the gas on to Italy.
The total investment in Shah Deniz 2 and pipeline infrastructure is estimated to be more than $40 billion.
Aliyev praised support from the United States, Britain, and the European Union in the project and the "strong" cooperation between Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Georgia in building the pipeline.
"This project takes into account the interests of everyone -- suppliers of gas, transit countries, and consumers," he added.
Many activists have slammed the project, saying that Western governments have turned a blind eye to rights violations in Azerbaijan and charging that it will serve to enrich Aliyev's inner circle.
Aliyev, 56, secured a fourth consecutive presidential term last month in an election that international observers said was marred by "serious irregularities" and a lack of real competition.