Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Caspian Pipeline

BP's Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline takes oil from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean instead of using tanker transport along the Black Sea and the highly congested Bosporus.

The BTC pipeline project cost an estimated $3.7bn, with BP as operator. The pipeline was officially inaugurated at the Sangachal terminal, near Baku, by President Ilham Aliyev of the Azerbaijan Republic, President Mikhail Saakashvilli of Georgia and President Ahmet Sezer of Turkey, joined by President Nursaltan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan on 25 May 2005.

Filling the pipeline with crude oil between Azerbaijan and Turkey's Mediterranean coast began on 25 May 2005. BP holds a 30% stake in the consortium running the pipeline. Other consortium members include Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR (25%), Amerada Hess (2.36%), ConocoPhillips (2.5%), Eni (5%), Inpex (2.5%), Itochu (3.4%), Statoil (8.71%), Total-FINA-ELF (5%), TPAO (6.53%) and Unocal (8.9%). The pipeline was constructed by, and is managed by, the consortium company Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline Company (BTC Co).

The first oil began to flow at the end of 2005 following a series of tests and the gradual filling process. The BTC became fully operational in 2006 and given that crude oil takes six months to traverse the full length of the pipeline flow rates through the pipeline have steadily increased to around 700,000 barrels of oil per day to the world market.

The pipeline was designed to accommodate an oil throughput of one million barrels per day (50 million t/yr). It has also been designed with an initial working life of approximately 40 years. The pipeline is protected against corrosion for its entire length and since security is such a big issue it is subject to constant safety surveillance, patrols and closed circuit TV observation (in case of terrorist incursion).

The construction project employed over 10,000 personnel and the long-term maintenance of the pipeline requires over 1,000 personnel. The cost of transporting oil down the pipeline has been estimated at $3.2 per barrel. Azerbaijan is the main beneficiary of the sale of its oil in international markets, collecting about $90 billion per year in oil revenues.

BTC pipeline route and specification

The pipeline route passes over 1,768km (1,100 miles) through the countries of Azerbaijan (445km), Georgia (245km) and Turkey (1,070km). In doing so it reaches an altitude of 2,800m as it passes across the Caucasus Mountains and East Anatolia.

The pipeline crosses the land of 20,000 individuals and companies who have been compensated with a share of over $133m for the acquisition of rights to the small portion of their land where the pipeline runs. Although the pipeline is underground and the land reinstated on top, all that remains visible are eight pumping stations (two each in Azerbaijan and Georgia and four in Turkey).

The pipeline consists of approx. 150,000 joints of line pipe, each measuring 12m in length. This corresponds to a weight of approximately 655,000t.

"The pipeline has removed the need for 350 tanker cargos a year."

The start of the pipeline is at the Sangachal terminal near Baku, which receives all the oil from the Azeri, Chirag and Gunashli (ACG) offshore oilfields in the Caspian (the control system of the pipeline is also situated here). The terminus of the pipeline is at a new marine terminal at Ceyhan in Turkey, where crude oil transportation tankers is loaded. It has been estimated that the ACG oil fields have reserves in excess of 5.4 billion barrels. The ACG fields are developed by the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC), a subsidiary of BP.

The Sangchal Terminal in Baku has two crude storage tanks, a central control station, metering facilities and a pumping station. The Ceyhan Marine terminal has seven crude oil storage tanks, a metering station, wastewater treatment, a vapour incineration facility and a jetty capable of loading two 300,000dwt tankers simultaneously.

The temperature at the receiving terminal is 30°C, allowing the oil to flow freely, although it gradually loses heat during transport. In the mountains, especially in the winter, ambient temperatures of -40°C and ground temperatures of -5°C are likely to result in an increase in viscosity. The oil has a high wax content of 8% to 14% by volume. To clear wax deposition, mechanical pigs are sent along the line periodically. The speed of the oil through the pipeline is estimated at an average of 2m/s.


Because it traverses 176 widely varied and sensitive terrains while crossing the politically unstable Caucasus region, the BTC was bedevilled by worries about its security and environmental risks. Accordingly, the US military's Special Forces trained 1,500 to 2,000 Georgian soldiers in anti-terrorism techniques under a $64m programme aimed at protecting the pipeline against saboteurs. In addition, a BP-led consortium granted an additional $25m to local non-governmental organizations to manage environmental programs.


BOTAS Petroleum Pipeline Corporation of Ankara in Turkey was the turnkey contractor for the project. Contractor screening and pre-qualification was carried out with Kvaerner, an independent engineering company (now known as John Brown Hydrocarbons).

Pipelay and facilities contracts in Azerbaijan and Georgia were awarded in August 2002. The Greek-based Consolidated Contractors International (CCIC) were awarded a contract for pipelay in Azerbaijan and the construction of the pumping stations ($229m), and the Franco-British Spie Capag / US Petrofac for pipelay in Georgia and also the construction of pumping stations ($248m). Additional contracts worth about $1.25bn were later awarded in Turkey by BOTAS.

Pipeline pumping and metering stations

At the first stage of the pipeline crossing Azerbaijan, the line has a diameter of 1,070mm. As it rises from the plains up into the Caucasus mountains and into Georgia this increases to 1,170mm, reverts back to 1,070mm on the route across Turkish Anatolia and, as it nears Ceyhan, reduces to 865mm.

There are eight pumping stations along the route, which are used to boost the oil pressure. There are also 101 block valve stations which enable the pipeline to be isolated into sections. The pump and block valve stations also provide power for the cathodic protection system which is used to prevent corrosion along the line. The sections are also coated with a three-layer system of fusion bonded epoxy (FBE), adhesive and polythene as protection against potential seismic activity as well.

There are four metering stations, one each in Azerbaijan and Georgia and two in Turkey. The line is buried at least 1m deep, although in some locations this is as much as 10m.

"The speed of the oil through the pipeline is estimated at an average of 2m/s."

BTC pipeline installation

BP has worked along a 32m-wide corridor while installing BTC pipeline - growing to 44m where the South Caucasus Pipeline (SCP), which carries gas from the Caspian Sea to the Turkish border, runs parallel to it. The BTC pipeline crosses over 3,000 roads, railways and utility lines, both over ground and underground. It also traverses 1,500 watercourses. The widest river crossing is the Cayhan River in Turkey, which is 5.2m deep and over 500m wide.

Seismic protection

Much of the area is seismically active: the route passes through three active faults in Azerbaijan, four in Georgia and seven in Turkey. This potential problem required a number of technical solutions such as reducing the angle at which the line crosses the fault or building in flexibility - installing a line layout that reduces soil resistance along the pipeline, allowing the substrate to move more freely, independent of the pipe in the event of earth movement.

The trenches were also filled with rounded granular material which helps movements take place easily, relative to the pipe. There is a computerised leak detection system which will work by analysing pressure drops and detecting the acoustic waves transmitted in the event of the leak.

Aktau-Baku Trans-Caspian project

In March 2005, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan agreed to build the 700km Aktau-Baku pipeline, connecting the Kashagan offshore oil fields near Aktau in Kazakhstan to the BTC Sengacal terminal in Baku via a sub-Caspian pipeline. In April 2007 the Aktau-BTC project became more than just an idea when an agreement was signed in Astana, between the Kazakh public company GazMunayGaz and the 'Northern Caspian', Tengiz Group and also foreign oil companies who will be project partners. The project, however, did not take off due to opposition from Russia and Iran. Oil from the Kashagan field is now being transported to the BTC line through oil tankers across the Caspian Sea.

The pipeline, which began construction in early 2008, is expected to be completed by 2011 and will cost an estimated $3 billion dollars. Kazakhstan will then be able to send 25 million tons of crude to the Western markets, which will later increase to 38 million tons.

Problems afoot

A fire broke out on the Turkish section of the pipeline in the Erzincan province on the 5th August after an explosion for which the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) claimed responsibility. The fire took some days to put out and on 13 August 2008 it was reported that the Turkish operator Botsas would take a week to assess the damage for repair. The explosion burned 12,000 barrels of crude oil and led to a fire reaching 50m in height although there were no reported casualties. The pipeline ceased operations immediately after the explosion but there is still 10 million barrels of crude oil at rest in the pipe. Aside from this problem, around 10 August 2008 a conflict between Georgia and Russia over the breakaway province of South Ossetia further threatened the continued security of the BTC pipeline. Reports from Georgian national security during August 2008 claimed that Russian warplanes had bombed sections of the BTC passing through Georgia. Reports are unclear as to the damage but Russian sources have denied deliberately targeting the pipeline. The BTC, which carries 1% of the world’s oil supply, could be out of action for 10 weeks while repairs are carried out and verified. Consequently BP, StatoilHydro and other producers have cut crude production at the Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli and Shah Deniz fields in the Azeri part of the Caspian Sea.