Pipeline security becomes major concern in Turkey

28 November 2016
23 November 2016, Week 46, Issue 283

In the wake of sabotage on the Iran-Turkey gas line, BP has confirmed that it is reinforcing the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) conduit and that similar measures are being taken to fortify TANAP

The sabotage of the Iran-Turkey gas pipeline on October 27, which halted flows through the line for 5 days, will have come as little surprise to Turkey’s state pipeline operator BOTAS or to other pipeline operators in the region.

Since mid 2015, when the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) restarted its insurgency campaign following a 2 year ceasefire the group has repeatedly targeted Turkey’s energy infrastructure, conducting at least five attacks on the Iraq-Turkey (oil) Pipeline (ITP) as well as sabotaging the Iran-Turkey gas line twice and the Azerbaijan-Turkey gas line once.

Given that much of south east Turkey is in a state of near civil war and that the ongoing civil wars in Iraq and Syria pose a permanent threat of spilling over the border into Turkey, it is little surprise that some pipeline operators and developers at least are taking extra measures to ensure that their facilities are better protected.

Speaking to NewsBase recently, Mick Stump the head of BP’s operation in Turkey confirmed that for the past two years the firm has been “fortifying” the 50-plus block valve stations on the main Turkish section of the 1 million barrel per day Baku Tbilisi Ceyhan (BTC) oil line.

The work, which had not previously been announced publically had been due to be completed at the end of this year but is now expected to be finished by the end of November.

Taking cover

Previously the sections of line containing the block valves had been exposed above ground with fortification work involving burying those sections and enclosing the block valve in a fortified enclosure making it less susceptible to sabotage.

Stump said that the same fortification work is being conducted on the 31 bcm per year Trans Anatolian Gas Pipeline (TANAP) as it is being constructed, having been planned ahead of development.

Existing intruder alert systems on BTC, which can “detect a rabbit crossing the line” have been very successful. With overall responsibility for security on the line resting with the Turkish authorities, BP conducts regular independent checks on the effectiveness of the response of security forces – an important consideration given recent events in Turkey.

“We’ve seen no change in the capability of the Turkish security forces to protect our lines before, during or after recent coup attempt,” he confirmed adding that they also conduct regular drills with the Turkish coastguards in response to possible incidents at the BTC line export terminal at Ceyhan.

Commenting on possible current security threats to BTC and TANAP given heightened regional tensions Stump noted that no security precautions can be guaranteed 100% effective and given the nature of the threats, the aim is to a large extent to make it difficult enough to deter possible attacks.

“Often when you build a facility you want to be a harder target than the next one,” he said adding that the fact that BTC and TANAP are further from the most insecure regions of Turkey than other pipelines and that this also helps deter attacks.

Sabotage

That has not always been the case however, with the one major security incident on the BTC line – the sabotage of a block station in July 2008 causing a major oil leak and fire which took three weeks to extinguish and repair, having occurred far up in north east Turkey.

That attack although claimed by the PKK, occurred only days prior to the entry of Russian troops into Georgia, raising suspicions that the Kurdish group may have had external help and that the attack may have had less to do with Kurdish separatism than Russian interests in destabilising its neighbours.

That said, the fact that it has took eight years for work to start fortifying the BTC block stations suggests that for some time after the 2008 attack, possible threats to the line were not considered serious enough to warrant further measure.

While the fact that the two-year programme of additionally fortifying the line should be completed at a time when the possible threats to pipelines inside Turkey are higher than they have ever been suggests a higher level of foresight than that demonstrated by other pipeline operators in Turkey.

Earlier this year senior BOTAS officials were still confidently confirming that despite the parlous security situation in south-east Turkey they planned to start construction of a new gas transmission line to the Turkey-Iraq border, by the end of this year.

The line, which is slated to have a capacity of around 20 bcm per year has long been planned to allow the imports of gas from the autonomous Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq into Turkey – plans which the PKK has warned it is opposed to.

Not surprisingly given the continuing conflict in south east Turkey, the entry of Turkish troops into northern Syria, and the ongoing conflict between the Kurdish Peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and jihadist militant forces in northern Iraq, those construction plans appear to have been put on indefinite hold, with no clear indication when, or indeed if they will be revived.

Edited by

Ian Simm

Editor

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