Turkey to load Azeri oil

ANKARA – The first shipment of Caspian oil pumped through the US$4 billion (3.1 billion-euro) newly built Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline could be loaded as early as tomorrow in Turkey onto a tanker destined for Western markets, officials said. The planned shipment from the Turkish oil terminal of Ceyhan marks an important step toward completing a project designed to help diversify oil supplies and ease the West’s dependence on Middle East crude. The recently completed 1,760-kilometer Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline allows the West to tap oil from the Caspian Sea fields, estimated to hold the world’s third-largest reserves, bypassing Russia and Iran. In the first shipment of Azeri oil, about 140,000 barrels of oil pumped through the pipeline will be lifted onto a BP-owned tanker as early as tomorrow along with some 560,000 barrels of Azeri oil which is already in storage tanks, oil officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. He pointed out, however, that the bulk of the Azeri oil shipment was already stored at Ceyhan when it was brought in by tanker to test new storage tanks at the site several months ago. Ceyhan is the end point of a pipeline running from neighboring Iraq and Turkey built a new terminal and storage tanks to ship Azeri oil. At Ceyhan, the new oil terminal is expected to begin pumping 1 million barrels of crude per day when fully operational. Officials said the planned shipment is a largely technical exercise and a formal launching ceremony, to be attended by the presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, is scheduled for July 13. The Caspian’s reserves are shared by Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. With increased demand for oil and prices at more than US$70 a barrel, analysts say any major improvement to supply systems is significant. «When demand is so high, every little bit of incremental oil is important for the market,» said Bulent Aliriza, an analyst with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. The project, conceived in the mid-1990s and launched in 2002, intended to tie the oil-rich newly independent former Soviet nations to the West and reduce the influence of Russia and Iran. US officials insisted that the pipeline be built through Turkey, bypassing the Middle East and Russia. Today, the pipeline is considered more to be a means of diversifying supplies to help reduce dependence on any one supplier. Hopes that Caspian oil could be an alternative source to Middle Eastern oil have however, proven unrealistic. Analysts say the Middle East still provides 50 percent of global oil supplies. For Turkey, the project is a cornerstone of its dream of becoming an international energy hub, transporting oil and natural gas from Iraq, Iran and Russia. Turkey also wants Ceyhan to be an outlet for Russian oil through a pipeline, which is yet to be built, across the Black Sea. «Either you’re a source country or a transit country,» Energy Minister Hilmi Guler said. «We are trying to develop the concept of being a transit country and want to be an energy terminal.» Construction of the pipeline fell a year behind schedule and costs rose by 30 percent to around 3 billion euros because of the delays. While the pipeline will primarily carry crude from the Azeri-Chiraq-Guneshli field, Kazakhstan is also considering pumping its oil by a pipeline connection.

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