07/02/2008, 00.00
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Seeking a Caspian Sea route to export oil to Europe

About 80 per cent of Kazakh oil goes through Russia. Moscow is not keen on increasing its pipelines’ carrying capacity to accommodate Astana but wants instead to keep its hold on that market. Astana wants to find other routes to reach Europe. Azerbaijan is not too responsive to its overtures but China and Iran have made offers.

Astana (AsiaNews/Agencies) –Kazakhstan wants to export more crude oil to rich European markets but Moscow is not too keen on greater competition. Astana is thus planning to by-passing Russia through the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus and is backed by the West in its objective.

Currently 80 per cent of Kazakh oil goes through Russia, and Astana would like to see the carrying capacity of the Tengiz-Novorossiysk and Atyrau-Samara pipelines boosted from 32 to 67 million tonnes 16 to 20 or 30 million tonnes respectively

According to a study by the Centre for Eastern Studies, Moscow wants guarantees for a stable flow of Kazakh crude over an extended period of time and certain economic commitments. It also wants the project linked to the future Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline (running through Bulgaria and Greece) and will allow the transport of no more than 10 million tonnes to Baltic Sea ports, which are preferred by Kazakhstan. This way, Moscow can keep Kazakh oil transport under its control and hold back one of its competitors.

Last year Kazakhstan was the main oil producer and exporter in the Caspian Sea region with 67 and 55 tonnes respectively. According to government forecasts, production and export volumes will be doubled free itself from Russia.

Currently only 10 per cent of Kazakh oil is exported through the Georgian port of Bakumi, in the southern Caucasus.

A pipeline going to China, which is being completed, already carries 5 million tonnes which should reach 20 million by 2010. Beijing wants that number to go up to 50 but Astana is reluctant to rely on a single customer. This is why it is negotiating to get a 15 million tonne oil transport capacity through Turkmenistan and Iran till the city of Gorgan, Iran.

Kazakhstan and Iran are likely to effect swap transactions; Kazakhstan will receive oil in the Persian Gulf in exchange for oil delivered to Northern Iran.

Astana also wants a route via the southern Caucasus and would like to use the pipelines that run from Baku in Azerbaijan through Tbilisi (Georgia) till Ceyhan in Turkey on the Mediterranean.

So far Azerbaijan has not responded to Kazakh overtures, concerned about favouring too much a competitor. However, experts suggest that things might change, especially since Azerbaijan’s output is bound to decline shortly transforming the country from a net exporter to a transit for Kazakh oil.

Europe in turn wants to reduce its energy dependency on Moscow and find other sources; foreign investors are willing to build the infrastructure to move crude oil across the Caspian Sea till Baku. US-based Chevron is negotiating with Azerbaijan to give preference to this route.  (PB)

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