Today groups of citizens joined representatives from various NGOs and political parties in protest in front of the Georgian International Oil Company (GIOC), which represents Georgia in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline project. The protest came in response to the Georgian Government's decision to issue permission for construction by November 30. The decision violates Georgian environmental legislation as it allows the pipeline to pass through protected areas and water sanctuary zones in the sensitive Borjomi Gorge. Both decisions, the Government says, were made to meet the project timeline and thus fulfil British Petroleum requirements. A GIOC spokesman shrugged off environmental concerns, saying that due to the pipeline operator s high professionalism the risk would be "zero minus one".

"Since November 2001, British Petroleum has continued to ignore the requests and recommendations of civil society and independent experts such as the Dutch environmental impact assessment commission to develop other alternatives for pipeline routing," stated Nino Gujaraidze, executive director of the Association "Green Alternative". As a result the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) suggesting only one route passing through the Borjomi region prevailed without discussion. Meanwhile, experts and environmentalists have clearly demonstrated that the project will have negative ecological impacts not only on the drinking and mineral water resources in the Borjomi gorge, but also on protected areas such as Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park. "The future of Borjomi should not be connected with oil and we do not believe that anybody can guarantee that nothing will happen with the pipe," added well-known Georgian writer Dato Turashvili.

British Petroleum needed a quick approval of the ESIA before the end of November when the Ministry of Environment of Georgia submitted 32 fundamental questions still not adequately reflected in the ESIA. The concerns are based on the conclusions of Georgian scientists, the Dutch EIA Commission, World Bank experts and French hydrologists. BP remains stubborn in accepting alternative routes. In a letter to President Shevardnadze, David Woodward, associate president of BP Azerbaijan, states 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".

While British Petroleum claims that it held public consultations according to the best practices, activists disagree. "Public input was carried out like a game Thanks for your comment, but you re wrong," says Manana Kochladze from CEE Bankwatch Network. "The public was provided insufficient information and major affected groups such as mineral water producers or National Park administration were not invited. Considering BP s record around the world, however, I m not surprised."

Note for Editors: BP leads the Azerbaijan International Operating Co consortium, that is planning to build the 1,770-km long Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline. The pipeline would transport up to one million barrels per day (50 million tonnes per annum) of crude oil from an expanded Sangachal terminal near Baku in Azerbaijan, through Georgia to a new marine terminal at Ceyhan on Turkey s Mediterranean coast. Partners in the venture include Unocal, Statoil, TPAO, ENI Agip, Itochu, ConocoPhillips, INPEX, TotalFinaElf and Amerada Hess.

In the late 1990s, the International Finance Corporation (the World Bank s private-sector arm) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development invested in Borjomi's Georgian Glass & Mineral Waters Company, allowing the company to modernise its facilities and develop new business plans. Last year the company generated revenues of USD 60 million.

For more information contact:
Manana Kochladze
CEE Bankwatch Network