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Turkey: IEA pushes Turkish Straits bypass

Turkey's geography is its strength, but also the cause of problems, according to the latest International Energy Agency (IEA) report on the country*. As a "land-bridge" between Asia and Europe, it will play an increasingly important role as a supply route for oil and gas from the Middle East and Caspian region to European markets. This role should ensure ready access to oil and gas for the country's own needs.

However, the volume of tanker traffic and other shipping using the Turkish Straits between the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea, and on to the Mediterranean Sea, has increased to the point of congestion and safety concerns, the IEA says. Accordingly, the government should "encourage the industry to develop a Turkish Straits bypass [pipeline], which is commercially feasible and would be far enough from environmentally sensitive zones".

Shipping movements through the Turkish Straits – the Strait of Istanbul and the Strait of Canakkale, the northerly and westerly exits of the Marmara Sea – have increased from an average of 20,000 vessels a year up to the mid-1990s to 50,000 vessels a year at present. About a tenth of the vessels are oil or liquefied natural gas tankers. The Strait of Istanbul – 32 km long and less than 1 km wide at its narrowest, with numerous bends – is particularly hazardous and there have been accidents.

Various plans for bypass oil pipelines have been proposed in recent years, but all appear to have stalled. A plan for a link along the shortest route, between the Black Sea coast at Kiyiköy (northwest of Istanbul) and Turkey's northern Aegean coast, has attracted criticism on environmental grounds. Plans for longer routes include a 660 km north-south link across the country, between Samsun on the Black Sea coast and the existing tanker terminal at Ceyhan. Bulgaria, Greece and Russia have promoted a long route between Burgas on Bulgaria's Black Sea coast and Alexandropoulis on Greece's Mediterranean coast (PE 2/05 p10). In the meantime, a new traffic-management system for the Turkish Straits has been introduced.

The country is about to raise its profile as an export route for oil from the east – which began long ago when a pipeline was constructed from Iraq to Ceyhan. Last month, BP said it had started filling the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which will carry 1.0m barrels a day of crude over 1,770 km from Azerbaijan's part of the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean coast. The first tanker is due to load at Ceyhan in the fourth quarter.

For gas, while there are existing pipelines to bring in imports from the east, there are no export pipelines to the west. The IEA says the government should continue to promote gas-transit routes – important projects are the Turkey-Greece pipeline (due to be constructed by 2006, with extensions further west a possibility) and the Nabucco pipeline running from Turkey to Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria (still a plan).

On the structure of the country's energy sector, the IEA calls for the privatisation of refining company Tüpras to be completed – this is under way – and for the privatisation of TPAO, the state-owned exploration and production company, to be considered. Botas, the state-owned gas-transmission company, should be "corporatised" and its functions unbundled to create an independent transmission and storage operator. The expansion of natural gas distribution networks should be encouraged to allow imports by new entrants, reducing Botas' market power.  

Turkey 2005 Review, in the Energy Policies of IEA Countries series. Published by the International Energy Agency, 9 rue de la Fédération, 75739 Paris Cedex 15, France

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