PKK claim responsibility for Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline blast - although initial reports said it was an accident
PKK the Kurdistan Worker's Party separatists have claimed responsibility an explosion that has halted the flow of oil through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, although oil price have been unaffected by this interruption in supply. (More pics)
Initially, Turkish officials reported that the explosion was the result of a technical malfunction (Dogan Haber Ajansi, August 6). On August 7, however, the People’s Defense Force (HPG), the military wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), issued a statement claiming that the explosion was the result of sabotage by one of its units (Firat News Agency, August 7). Turkish officials have now backed down from their previous conviction that the explosion was caused by an accident. On August 7 Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler told Turkish journalists that officials would have to wait until the fire had been extinguished before conducting a thorough investigation to determine the cause of the explosion. “It is too early to say anything for certain,” said Guler (Anadolu Ajansi, August 7). The Turkish television news channel CNNTurk quoted unidentified BTC officials who had visited the site as saying, “We haven’t seen any signs of an explosion that would indicate sabotage, but the cause will only become clear after the fire has been extinguished” (CNNTurk, August 7).
The blaze is persisting after an explosion near the wooded and hilly areas at valve No 30 near the town of Refahiye in eastern Turkey on Tuesday 5th August at night (Google map). This is the first damage reported on the $4bn (€2.6bn, £2.1bn) pipeline carrying more than 1 % of world oil supply from Azerbaijan to the Turkish Mediterranean coast. see Tuesday, June 06, 2006 BTC pipeline ships first oil from Ceyhan - historic moment
The site of the explosion is outside the PKK's normal area of operation in SE Turkey.
The group claimed responsibility for a pipeline blast in March that halted gas exports from Iran to Turkey for five days. Yesterday a mortar shell was fired at municipal buildings in Istanbul. On July 8 a HPG unit seized three German mountaineers in eastern Turkey, the first time the PKK had kidnapped foreigners in over a decade (see Terrorism Monitor, July 25).
Several Kurdish separatists have been arrested on suspicion of bombing an Istanbul neighbourhood last week, killing 17 people. The attack in Istanbul, the worst in Turkey since 2003, led analysts to speculate that the PKK are shifting tactics and moving out of their south-east stronghold.
The 1,770km oil pipeline runs from Baku, the Azeri capital, via Tbilisi in Georgia, to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Sanctioned and supported by President Clinton it provides an important and tsrategic alternative to the Russian transit network for Caspian crude.
Stocks at the Ceyhan depot have been severely depleted since the explosion and the pipeline's operators yesterday ceased using reserves to load tankers at the port.
BP, a major shareholder in the pipeline consortium ( which was affected by their "takeover" of Aramco) , said partners had declared force majeure on exports, freeing themselves from contractual obligations. The group has begun diverting some crude to other routes while the Ceyhan pipeline remains closed.
Before pumping can resume, pipeline operators will have to wait for oil left (approx 12,000 barrels) in a contained section (Valves 29- 31) of the pipeline to burn off, get the fire under control, and then cool and excavate the damaged pipeline, which runs two metres underground.
Industry sources said once that has been completed, the section of pipeline could be replaced within days. However, the length of the delay before oil is flowing will depend on several other factors, including the scale and duration of the fire.
The Turkish authorities have a considerable incentive to try to blame the explosion and fire of August 5 on an accident, as Turkey is legally responsible for the security of the BTC pipeline and thus financially liable to the oil companies for any losses as a result of a terrorist attack. Turkey would also be financially responsible if, as is possible, the explosion of August 5 was the result of an attempt by criminal groups to steal the oil.
There have been such attempts in the past.
However, even if the PKK did not attack the pipeline on August 5, the alacrity with which the HPG claimed responsibility for the explosion indicates that, at the very least, the organization undoubtedly now regards the BTC as a legitimate target.
Effects of the closure on crude supplies
The BTC pipeline will be closed down for a minimum of two weeks, but the shutdown could last five weeks, Dow Jones Newswires reported, citing A Botas International Ltd. spokesman who operate the Turkish part, which was damaged in the fire said the pipeline would be closed for at least 2 weeks . The pipeline transports about 850,000 barrels a day of oil and condensates from Azerbaijani fields - about 30 million barrels of oil won't reach the markets if the pipeline was closed down for five weeks, Dow Jones reported.