Today the Georgian government gave environmental clearance for the construction of the Georgian section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. This despite the fact that, during the environmental review process, environmental organisations had questioned the resolve of British Petroleum as the leading member of the BTC consortium to adequately address the project’s environmental and social consequences.
International and local NGOs, as well as expert groups from various countries (Georgia, Germany, France, Netherlands), had expressed their dissatisfaction with the quality of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) and public consultation processes. The government, however, approved the document with little review. Activists contend that BP had strong-armed the government, citing a letter from David Woodward, Associate President of British Petroleum Azerbaijan warning Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze that delaying approval beyond the end of November would jeopardise the timely start of the construction phase.
Public reaction was strong. Various protests in support of protecting the Borjomi valley are already planned. "This is a clear violation of Georgian environmental law," said Manana Kochladze, Caucasus coordinator for the CEE Bankwatch Network, "and we call on international financial institutions considering supporting this project to withhold financing until there has been a proper review of the project’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment."
The major outstanding issue is the routing of the pipeline through the sensitive Borjomi and Tsalka regions without any serious investigation into alternatives. The disputed 20 km segment crosses national cultural and environmental heritage sites and support zones for the Borjomi/Kharagauli National Park managed by the Worldwide Fund for Nature. According to independent experts, the pipeline would adversely impact the underground waters of the Bakuriani plateau, affecting the drinking water source for surrounding villages and Borjomi city itself, and threatening the local mineral water industry, including Borjomi brand mineral waters.
According to the Dutch Commission for Environmental Impact assessment, essential information on security was not provided and environmental information for the Borjomi/Bakuriani area is lacking. Also, the ranking of routes for a new oil pipeline from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey as presented in the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment is inadequate. In his arguments for a quick approval, however, Mr. Woodward ignores the alternative route options and appears to suggest a position for the Georgian government, stating that it may be necessary to inform experts who visit with [President Shevardnadze] in the coming weeks that routes through this district are and will remain unacceptable.
This information is echoed in a letter from November 26, 2002, from Nino Chkhobadze, the Georgian Minister of the Environment to British Petroleum CEO Lord John Browne. In the letter, Chkhobadze complains that "BP representatives are asking the Georgian Government to violate its own environmental legislation. Although all possible alternatives to the Borjomi Valley were not studied in the BTC ESIA, and despite BTC’s own expert opinions on the risks of taking this route, we are now told that it is impossible to consider alternatives to the Borjomi Valley route."
The behaviour of BP and Government raised many questions among the public. According to a public opinion poll, 73% of the public was clearly against the pipeline crossing Borjomi.
However, after intense negotiations between British Petroleum and President Shevardnadze on November 30, the Minister of the Environment signed the permission for constructing the pipeline through the Borjomi valley.
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CEE Bankwatch Network