Tapping the Caspian

Michael Fitzsimmons has an interesting review of The New Great Game by Lutz Kleveman, breaking down the polemics of negotiating the best supply route, both politically and economically, to tap into the considerable oil desposits in the Caspian region.

Most people are fairly familiar with the oil history of Baku,Azerbaijan dating back to Russian oil discovery and production in theearly 1870s. Kleveman relates an interesting story of Swede RobertNobel who was the older brother of factory owners Ludwig and AlfredNobel who had become very wealthy producing arms and dynamite. Roberthad been sent to Baku with 25,000 rubles to purchase Russian walnut tomake rifle butts. Instead, he caught Baku oil fever and bought a smallrefinery. After only a few years, the Nobel Brothers PetroleumProducing Company vaulted over Rockefeller’s Standard Oil as thelargest oil producer in the world. Later, the Nobel’s invented thefirst oil tanker in a story well told in Daniel Yergin’s The Prize, forwhich, ironically, Yergin won the Nobel Prize for non-fictionliterature in 1992. And yes, the prize is named after the same Nobelfamily as those men seeking walnut wood for rifle butts in Azerbaijan.

Fast forward to today: Baku Azeri oil is being shipped to theMediterranean Sea and world markets via the so-called BTC(Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan) pipeline. The picture below shows the pipeline’sroute from Baku, Azerbaijan through Tbilisi Georgia, and finally to theMediterranean Turkish port of Ceyhan.

This pipeline was hailed as the “Contract of the Century” by Azeriofficials very much interested in getting their oil to marketindependent of Iranian and Russian involvement.