(Eurasianet.org)–A top British Petroleum (BP) executive met with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili on Tuesday–aiming to secure permission to proceed with construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline through an environmentally sensitive area of Georgia. Georgian officials earlier ordered a two-week construction halt in the Borjomi region–saying BP had not obtained the necessary permits.
David Woodward–BP’s top executive in the Caucasus who is overseeing the BTC project–sought to reassure the Georgian leadership that the oil giant was committed to protecting the Borjomi region–site of a national park and mineral water springs. Woodward reportedly characterized his talks with the Georgian president as successful without disclosing details. No Georgian officials gave any immediate comment on the discussions. The day before the Woodward-Saakashvili meeting–Azerbaijani officials raised the Borjomi-BTC issue during talks with Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania.
The Borjomi controversy can be traced to July 12–when Georgia’s Environment Ministry reportedly sent BP a formal reminder that the oil company needed permits to begin construction on a 17-kilometer stretch of pipeline that passes through the Borjomi region. BP reportedly did not respond to the government reminder–and–as photographs taken by local activists affiliated with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) showed–the company proceeded with construction in the area. The government issued an order July 22 to suspend construction for two weeks–giving BP time to obtain the necessary permits.
Shortly after the stoppage was announced–a BP representative in Tbilisi–Rusudan Medzmariasvhili–indicated that a two-week halt would not cause any change in the pipeline’s overall construction timetable–which calls for the 1,750-kilometer conduit to be completed in early 2005.
The plan to run the BTC pipeline through the Borjomi region of Georgia has long generated controversy. Environmental groups have asserted that BP’s plans to protect the area from spills and other pipeline-related problems are inadequate. The US $3.6-billion project has been plagued by negative publicity of late. In late June–a report published by the British newspaper–The Independent–said the safety of the pipeline was being threatened by shoddy construction practices. Contractors and sub-contractors–according to the report–were "cutting corners" in the attempt to meet construction deadlines.