British oil giant BP has been forced to stop work on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline after breaching Georgian national law, campaigners revealed today.
The Georgian government suspended work on BTC following BP's decision to start construction in the ecologically vulnerable Borjomi region, despite its repeated failures to obtain the necessary environmental certification to proceed. The region contains the Borjomi national park, an area of outstanding natural beauty and mineral water springs whose bisection by the BTC pipeline has long been the subject of fierce opposition by environmentalists.
Georgian Deputy Environment Minister Zaal Lomtadze told environmental group WWF that his ministry sent BP a formal reminder on July 12 that the company must apply for construction permits for the Borjomi region. BP again failed to make the application. Photographs taken by local WWF staff reveal that BP illegally went ahead with construction for more than a week without permits, until the government intervened on July 22 and stopped work in Borjomi.
"BP has been caught red-handed," said James Leaton of WWF. "They have made all kinds of promises about how the BTC project would boost Georgian sovereignty, yet as soon as Georgian law no longer fits their schedule, they violate it without hesitation."
Besides the national park, the Borjomi region also contains the Kodiana Mountains, an area of geological complexity and extreme vulnerability to landslides and earthquakes. Georgian Environment Minister Tamar Lebanidze was reported as saying that she would not have approved the route through Borjomi selected by BP in November 2002, because of the risk of catastrophic environmental damage in the event of pipeline rupture.
"In violating Georgian law, BP is clearly in violation of its loan agreements with the World Bank and other funders," said Nicholas Hildyard of the Corner House. "The key question now is what will those institutions do? The World Bank claims it spent hundreds of millions of dollars of our money on this pipeline because of the additional protections it can bring to make projects like BTC better. The Georgian government has acted in response to these violations. The funders must now do the same if they are to retain any credibility."
The incident is the latest in a line of embarrassing revelations for BP over the BTC project. Last month, whistleblowers on the Turkish section of the pipeline revealed a catalogue of management failures that were allegedly causing major health and safety problems. Doubts have also been raised over the reliability of the coating used on the Azeri and Georgian sections of BTC, raising the spectre of widespread leaks and pollution.
"BP has repeatedly said that it will construct this pipeline to the highest standards", said Hannah Griffiths of Friends of the Earth. "But whenever the standards get in the way of the construction schedule, they get jettisoned."
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