US tells Turkey to protect pipelines

Washington is trying to influence Turkey’s energy policies

One of Turkey’s energy polices is to turn the country into a major transit hub for energy transshipments. 

Fine, says Washington – just so long as you don’t deal with those naughty Iranians.

The warning flies in the face of the sad reality that Turkey currently imports 90 percent of its energy supplies, and, like China, is talking to any and all potential providers to diversify its energy import matrix.

The latest indicator that Washington is attempting to influence Ankara’s energy policies came in Istanbul when France’s Mediterranean Energy Observatory Hydrocarbons Division director, Sorbet Karbuz, grandiosely informed his hosts at the 27th Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, “Turkey should lessen its energy dependency on both Russia and especially Iran.” 

Karbuz then informed the Turks that Washington supports the idea of lessening Turkey’s rising energy dependency on Iran, since, “The US clearly backs Turkey in this since the US wants to isolate Iran in the region despite the rich energy sources.” 

Hello? Is anybody home here? Since when do countries hand over national security issues, which include energy, to foreign government’s “aims?” 

Karbuz, reportedly amongst the world’s leading energy experts, was only warming to his theme and continued, “The world’s most virgin oil and natural gas fields are in Libya and Iraq, and Turkey should make the best out of its neighbours’ sources through its energy firms,” conveniently ignoring the fact that Iran is not only a neighbour of Turkey, but that the pair have not fought a war since 1639, more than a century before the United States of America was founded.

Soldiering on, Karbuz noted that Turkey must first tackle the issue of energy security in its southeastern provinces in order to transfer (Iraqi) oil and natural gas to the international markets, commenting, “Frequent bomb attacks on the Kirkuk-Yumurtalık pipeline puts Turkey’s bid in becoming an energy transfer point between Iraq and the international markets in danger. Otherwise the rich resources of oil and gas in Iraqi fields might be transferred through the Persian Gulf. Since the US aims to isolate Iran in the region, Iraq appears to be the best alternative in the region for both supplying European demand and fulfilling Turkey’s role as an energy transfer point.”

Well, re Turkish interest in protecting pipelines, let’s delve into some history.

First, the cost - Ankara estimated in March 2003 that western sanctions since 1991's Operation Desert Storm cost Turkey $80 billion in lost revenue transit fees. Secondly, as regards pipeline security, Turkey is already well aware of the issue.

The international consortium $3.6 billion, one million barrel per day, 1,092-mile Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which began operations in May 2005, traverses 669 miles of Turkish territory, nearly all of which contains significant Kurdish populations before debouching in Turkey’s Ceyhan deepwater Mediterranean port. 

Despite burying the entire BTC pipeline to thwart possible attacks, BTC's eight pumping stations (two in Azerbaijan, two in Georgia and four in Turkey), however, are above ground, as are their electrical power installations.

On 5 August 2008 an explosion occurred at about 11 p.m. on the BTC pipeline segment at Turkey’s Yurtbasi village; after Ankara was notified, valves 29 and 31 were closed as officials waited for the oil contained in the 4-mile segment of No. 30 terminal to burn out. BTC operator BP declared force majeure. When BTC resumed operations 20 days later, Azerbaijan had been blocked from shipping approximately 17 million barrels of crude and the US Department of Energy estimated that Azerbaijan's final cost for the lost shipments was more than $1 billion. Turkey’s separatist Marxist Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan (Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK) claimed responsibility for the attack. 

Turkey also operates the Iraqi-Turkish Kirkuk-Ceyhan 600-mile, 40-inch Kirkuk-Ceyhan (Dortyol - "four roads" or "crossroads") dual export pipeline from Iraqi oilfields to Turkey's Dortyol port on the Turkish Mediterranean coast near the BTC terminus at Ceyhan. Dating from Saddam's time, this is Iraq's largest operable crude export pipeline. Along with BTC, this pipeline has also been targeted by the PKK - the same month as the PKK Yurtbasi BTC attack PKK spokesman Abd-al-Rahman Chadarchi stated that if PKK forces in northern Iraq were attacked, his group would assault Turkish oil targets, "since they bring huge amounts of money to Turkey," adding, "The military regime in the country will use this (energy revenues) to develop its war machine to utilize it against the Kurdish people in Turkish Kurdistan."

So, given that they have dealt for years with the complex issues of pipeline security, foreign advice about tamping down Turkish imports of Iranian energy are likely not only to get a cold shoulder in Ankara, but be seen by the Turkish government as unwarranted interference in domestic security issues. After all, the Turkish imports of Iranian energy run like clockwork. 

Is Washington listening and, if it is, willing to make up the energy import shortfalls should Turkey sign on to Washington’s latest iteration of its Iran policy?  Port operators in Ceyhan should not be holding their breath.

About the author

John C.K. Daly is a writer for OilPrice.com which is one of the leading free energy sites online and covers the latest news and analysis from all energy sectors, including fossil fuels, alternatives, technological developments and geopolitics.