The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline is 1,768 kilometers long, transporting crude oil from the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil field in the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, connecting Baku and Ceyhan via Tbilisi. Negotiations and first works on pipeline started during the late 1990s, after BP made new oil discoveries in Azerbaijan. The agreement in support of the pipeline was signed on 18 November 1999 by the governments of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey in Istanbul, Turkey. The project took more than 10 years to finish and has been commissioned in 2006.
There has been a lot of controversy before and during the implementation of the project, as well as protests about its possible impact on the environment. In 2005, demonstrators in Azerbaijan were reportedly beaten and arrested, with Azeri authorities justifying their actions saying that the protests took place too close to the pipeline. In general, the BTC pipeline is not without risk as it runs through a politically unstable region and requires constant surveillance to prevent attacks. During an incident on 6 August 2008, a major explosion and fire took place in the Turkish province Erzincan, closing down the pipeline for almost three weeks. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) claimed responsibility for the attack.
In September 2014, to mark the 20 year anniversary of the signing of BP's “Contract of the Century”, that granted the company and 11 other international oil companies the right to extract oil in Azerbaijan, protests re-emerged urging BP to cut ties with the regime. BP and the other companies look back at a 20-year business relationship with the repressive Aliyev family, that has been governing Azerbaijan with an iron fist.
There have been complaints and protests by local farmers and workers during the past years, when they had been promised job opportunities and development that would come with the installation of the pipeline, but find themselves now affected by low employment and the lack of support for business development in the region, as the company is bringing all products like food, beverages and water from Tbilisi. As a consequence, more conflicts and tensions over work opportunities and other issues between ethnic groups could emerge, as have been taking place in the Tsalka region in Georgia.
According to ECA Watch "The BTC pipeline met fierce resistance from local people and international NGOs because of the huge range of environmental and human rights risks entailed in the project. The project violates World Bank and EBRD regulations as well as Turkish laws and EIA objectives on a total of 173 counts. In acquiring the land for the BTC pipeline, BP violated World Bank policies by using emergency powers to fast track the process. The project environmental and social impact assessment did not contain a clear outline of resettlement and compensation plans." In Georgia, the pipeline runs through the Borjomi National Park where it has left a visible scar on the landscape. As the park is also the region's primary source of Borjomi water and therefore of income, a leak or spill from the pipeline would have devastating effects on local communities depending on the water.
Moreover, in Turkey, concerns are that the Yumurtalik fishermen could be heavily affected by the tanker terminal which seriously encroaches on their fishing grounds. Also, a spill in this area could have enormous impacts on wildlife in the region.
In 2011, environmental groups including Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth won a long-running case as the UK government confirmed a complaint that BP had failed to act on evidence of intimidation by Turkish security forces along the pipeline.
In 2014, there were still 98 political prisoners held in Azerbaijan, with many more facing threats of arrest. Many prominent activists involved in protests in three countries against BP and the BTC pipeline have been jailed over the past decade. Threats have been numerous and very openly displayed, as in 2003, when the vice president of SOCAR Ilham Aliyev and the son of Azerbaijan's president Heydar Aliyev made a statement on national television threatening opponents and protesters of the project. The president himself also declared that protesting against the pipeline would be considered a breach of the law.