The presidents of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia formally opened a pipeline Thursday designed to bypass Russia and bring Caspian oil to Europe, a route that President Bush said would bolster global energy security.
The United States staunchly supported the 1,100-mile, $3.9 billion pipeline as part of a strategy to tap sources of crude outside of the Middle East and draw the Caspian states away from Russia and closer to the West.
In Brussels, EU spokesman Ferran Tarradellas Espuny said the pipeline “will improve our security of supply and our diversification goals .... Diversification of origin and routes has been identified as a priority in the European energy policy.”
Oil began flowing from the Turkish port of Ceyhan last month and some 430,000 barrels of oil are flowing each day, said Norman Rodda, construction manager for the Turkish section of the pipeline.
That’s a fraction of the 85 million barrels per day that the world consumes, but with global production stretched and prices skyrocketing, experts say all supplies matter.
Officials at BP, the pipeline consortium’s main participant and the largest foreign investor in Azerbaijan’s oil sector, said they expected pumping to increase to 1 million barrels per day by 2008. Kazakhstan recently said it would begin pumping some oil through the pipeline, and Azerbaijani production is expected to be boosted to reach that goal.
The new oil is not expected to have a major impact on already sky-high oil prices, but some experts said the crude may have helped prices from going even higher.
There is already talk of building new Caspian pipelines to increase the flow.
“Together those lines are helping to create a new trade route, which is helping to meet the world’s growing need for energy and reduce the growing sense of insecurity which is distorting the world’s energy scene,” said John Browne, the chief executive of BP PLC.
On Thursday, Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev joined pieces of pipe on a commemorative model of the pipeline to formally open the route.
“There were some destructive forces” that opposed the pipeline, Aliev said. “We want this oil to bring peace, development and prosperity.”
Russia strongly opposed the pipeline and instead pressed for Caspian oil to continue going through its territory. Many oil officials were against building an expensive pipeline that would need to snake through Azerbaijan, the mountains of Georgia and northern Turkey, and favored the cheaper Russian option.