BAKU (AFP) – The first oil will flow out of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline in the second half of 2005, the lead company building the pipeline said yesterday, but it declined to give an exact date, arguing that «people get overexcited» about deadlines. David Woodward, head of Azerbaijan operations for oil major BP, which is the BTC project’s operator, insisted that construction work on the pipeline, which will link the landlocked Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean, was not behind schedule. «The first tanker lifting will take place in the second half of 2005,» Woodward told AFP on the sidelines of the Caspian Oil and Gas conference in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku. He said, though, that he did not want to name a date. «It is not because we see that we are not going to be able to achieve the schedule, it is because people get overexcited,» about dates, Woodward said. The first oil from Azerbaijan’s offshore Azeri field, which will initially supply most of the crude for the BTC project, will be loaded into the pipeline in the first quarter of 2005, Woodward said. After that, it will take «some months» to travel the 1,760 kilometers (1,094 miles) from Baku to the end of the pipeline, a tanker terminal at Ceyhan on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. Construction work on the BTC pipeline, which is being financed by a consortium of international energy companies with the backing of the US government, is now more than half completed. Costing $2.9 billion (2.37 billion euros) to build, it will pump up to 1 million barrels of crude a day from the Caspian Sea, across Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, to international markets. The pipeline is eagerly anticipated by Western governments. They want to tap into the Caspian’s oil reserves as an alternative to the Middle East, where political instability is causing jitters. There has been speculation that the completion date for the pipeline could be slipping after unusually heavy snows in mountainous sections of the pipeline route in Turkey and Georgia held up construction work. However, the BTC consortium and its contractors say they are making up the lost time by pushing the pace of construction. Mehemet Hilmi Guler, Turkey’s minister of energy and natural resources, said the Turkish leg of the pipeline would be delivered on time. BP executive Woodward said that construction crews had now begun work in Georgia’s Borjomi valley, a pristine alpine region which environmentalists claim could be ruined by the pipeline. Woodward said additional safety measures had been introduced into the Borjomi section of the pipeline to guard against leaks. These included extra thick pipe walls, movement detectors and a pipe trench half a meter deeper than along the rest of the route. Woodward added that the partners in the BTC consortium had agreed to name the pipeline in honor of Heydar Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s late president. The BTC consortium is made up of BP, Azerbaijan’s state oil company Socar, TPAO, Statoil, Unocal, Itochu, INPEX, Amerada Hess and ENI.