Turkey on Thursday opened a $4-billion pipeline to take oil from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean, sidestepping major energy producer Russia while aiming to cut Western dependence on Middle East oil.
The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan project, backed by the United States, is part of an energy corridor vital to the strategic interests of both the European Union and EU candidate Turkey.
Turkish, Azerbaijani and Georgian heads of state were joined by ministers from around the world for a ceremony at the port of Ceyhan to mark the opening of the 1,106-mile pipeline from Baku, Azerbaijan, which also goes to Tbilisi, Georgia. The gathering occurred only days before Russian President Vladimir V. Putin hosts a summit of the Group of 8 leading industrialized nations that will focus on energy security.
"The BTC project is crucial to creating a reliable energy corridor between producer and consumer countries," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
London-based oil giant BP, the main partner in the consortium running the pipeline, expects its capacity to reach 1 million barrels a day by 2008.
Ceyhan, on the Mediterranean, is already the terminal for a pipeline from Iraq's Kirkuk fields. With a planned line from the Black Sea city of Samsun, it is expected to account for 8% of global crude trade when running at full capacity.
It also bypasses the shipping bottlenecks at western Turkey's Bosporus Strait.
The Baku-Ceyhan project is one of a series of oil and gas pipeline ventures that could increase Turkey's strategic importance to the European Union as an energy corridor over the next decade as well as meeting domestic energy demand.