TBILISI (AP)–The presidents of Georgia–Azerbaijan–and Turkey on Wednesday ceremonially opened the valves on the Georgian section of a US-backed Caspian pipeline that is seen as key to cutting Western dependence on Mideast oil. They said the new route would help their countries prosper.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili–AzeriPresident Ilham Aliyev–and Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer each pushed a button opening valves at a pumping station for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline in the Gardaban district outside the capital–Tbilisi.
"What does this pipeline mean for Georgia? Economically–it means investment," Saakashvili said at the ceremony. "But the significance of this pipeline is first of all political. Georgia’s significance is growing on the world map and in this region."
"Next year we’ll get a gas pipeline–which means economic and energy independence for Georgia," he added.
Known as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan–or BTC pipeline–the $3.2 billion project aims to boost the energy-hungry West’s access to the rich Caspian fields–estimated to hold the world’s third-largest reserves. Iran–Russia–Azerbaijan–Turkmen’stan and Kazakhstan all claim shares of the Caspian’s undersea wealth.
The three leaders opened the first section–transiting Azerbaijan–in May.
By year’s end–the 1,100-mile project is to ship up to 1 million barrels a day to Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. It will take approximately 10 million barrels of crude to fill the entire pipeline.
Most Caspian oil exports currently go through Russian pipelines to the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk–where the oil is loaded onto tankers that squeeze through the crowded Bosporus Strait.