A public meeting held yesterday and today in Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, underscored public disenchantment with the proposed Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline. The pipeline, which will connect the Caspian Sea with the Mediterranean, is being planned by a consortium led by BP.

The meeting, which was organised by the Association Green Alternative and the Public Movement for the Dignified Future of Georgia, sought to address increased public discussion surrounding the environmental and social issues associated with the pipeline's selected route. Many people have questioned why no alternative routes were considered.

Although Georgia's Ministry of the Environment issued the environmental permit allowing construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline at the beginning of December, the debate surrounding the pipeline's route as proposed by BP refuses to die down. National and international scientists hold different and often controversial opinions about the selected route and alternatives, and the public continues to remain dissatisfied with the government's decision.

Both proponents and opponents of the selected BTC pipeline route participated in the meeting. Scientists, non-governmental organisations, representatives of the Georgian International Oil Corporation (GIOC), the Georgian Ministry of the Environment and concerned citizens all had a chance to express their opinions and participate in the discussion.

Most of the speakers were against the selected route, which crosses several sensitive areas, and many people said that their opinions had not been taken into account during elaboration of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment and the permission process. The discussion became especially heated when the issue of the Borjomi Valley region was raised. GIOC representatives tried to argue that all possible safety measures would be applied to avoid contamination of the surface and ground waters, but participants were not satisfied. Many responded that there are alternatives to the pipeline crossing the valley, and that, given a choice between ignoring alternatives or cancelling the project altogether, they would choose the latter. In the end, the GIOC representatives promised that all possible alternatives to the selected route would be explored.

Other participants and organisers stressed the need for continued dialogue.

"We need to work hard with our counterparts to minimise ethnic, political and environmental risks. We definitely need to resolve any kind of conflict without violence. There is an obvious need for constructive dialog among all interested parties", said Mr. Irakli Kakabadze from the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy.

"A lot of different concerns were raised at the meeting that have never been discussed publicly before and that BP needs to address", stated Ms. Nino Gujaraidze, Executive Director of the Association Green Alternative. "Once again it was proven that BP failed to conduct meaningful public consultations and did not take into account the opinions of local scientists or the interests of the general public."