Caspian Sea oil will be brought to Western markets

The first section of a 1,100-mile pipeline - BP-led and United States-backed - that will bring &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Caspian Sea oil to Western markets, was inaugurated yesterday at the start of a project seen as an economic and political boon for the troubled Caucasus region.

The presidents of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Turkey were on hand for the ceremony at the Sangachal oil terminal, about 25 miles south of Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, to open the taps for the first drops of oil to enter the Baku-Tbilisi- Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline.

The pipeline from Baku to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan is seen as a significant move toward reducing the West's dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Most Caspian oil exports previously moved through Russian pipelines, often adding to the congestion in the Bosporus strait, reports the Scotsman.

Hailing the biggest investment in the region since the collapse of communism, the leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey turned on the taps of the &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline linking the three countries.

The $3.2bn (Ђ2.5bn, Ј1.7bn) pipeline will carry 1m barrels of oil a day when it is fully operational by the fourth quarter of this year, and more if, as expected, Kazakhstan joins the project in the near future.

Lord Browne, chief executive of oil major BP, the biggest shareholder and investor in the BTC pipeline with a 30.1 per cent stake, said in an interview that the project was "an important piece of the jigsaw of the world energy market".

As well as bringing together the presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Kazakhstan, the opening ceremony also attracted Samuel Bodman, US energy secretary, an early champion of the project for geopolitical reasons, including a desire to enhance the independence of former Soviet republics from Moscow.

The pipeline's circuitous 1,770km route through some of the most mountainous territory in the Caucasus bypasses Russia, which dominates routes to western markets for oil from the Caspian and central Asia.

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