Southern Gas Corridor project solemnly launched in Azerbaijan

By Aynur Jafarova

Energy-rich Azerbaijan once again approved its leading role in ensuring Europe's energy security--one of the country's most ambitious projects--Southern Gas Corridor was launched.

The groundbreaking ceremony of foundation of the project to deliver the Azerbaijani gas via neighboring Georgia and Turkey to Europe was laid in Baku on September 20, on the 20th anniversary of signing of the 'Contract of the Century', a project of developing the Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli block of fields signed in 1994.

Speaking at the ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the Contract of the Century and laying the foundation of the Southern Gas Corridor, President Aliyev said the Contract of the Century was a historic event, which opened up new opportunities for the country's development.

He said large investments started coming to Azerbaijan and a process of international cooperation was launched in the Caspian region for the first time in the history.

"Azerbaijan got an opportunity to deliver its rich oil resources to the world markets, and the general economic and political development of our country began exactly with the signing of Contract of the Century," President Aliyev said. "The new oil strategy has been implemented for 20 years, and has brought great benefits to Azerbaijan."

President Aliyev also noted in recent years Azerbaijan has consistently pursued its energy policy.

"Today's ceremony is the crown of the carried out activities. If in previous periods these issues would not have been settled, then today the Southern Gas Corridor might have been out of the question. Currently, the project is completely ready. The corridor's construction starts today," President Aliyev said.

He went on to add that the Southern Gas Corridor project is very beneficial for the partner countries.

"There will be no losers following the implementation of this project. Each side will have benefits," the president said.

He said the transit countries, which are also the consumer countries, will achieve the diversification of gas sources.

The Azerbaijani president went on to add that the Southern Gas Corridor will ensure the energy security of Europe.

"It is no coincidence that the document signed three years ago between the European Commission and Azerbaijan, focuses on the fact that Azerbaijan is a country, playing a very important role in ensuring Europe's energy security," President Aliyev said.

He noted from now on, this role will increase.

"The energy security is a matter of national security of every country. Today, it is totally impossible to separate the energy industry from politics and economy, and we will take part in ensuring Europe's energy security jointly with our partners," President Aliyev said.

The president expressed confidence that the energy security, diversification of routes, joint activity of the producing, transiting and consumer countries will bring success, as there needs to be a very serious coordination in this activity.

"Until today, only three countries - Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey participated in our oil and gas projects. From this day on we are entering a process of broad international cooperation," he said.

The president said Azerbaijan, as a gas producer, will deliver its resources to the world markets.

He added this project will be joined by Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, Italy, and in the future by Montenegro, Croatia and other countries.

In his remarks Head of Azerbaijan's state energy company SOCAR Rovnag Abdullayev said around $45 billion will be invested in the implementation of the projects as part of Azerbaijani gas supplies to Europe.

"Together with our partners we will expand the South Caucasus gas pipeline and create the Trans-Anatolian (TANAP) and the Trans-Adriatic (TAP) gas pipelines as part of the second stage of the Shah Deniz field development."

"Azerbaijani gas will be supplied to Turkey as part of the Shah Deniz-2 project in 2018 and to Europe in 2019," Abdullayev said.

In his remarks Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Taner Yildiz said the Southern Gas Corridor project and other energy projects being implemented in Azerbaijan have global significance.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev expressed gratitude to President Aliyev and the people of Azerbaijan for the commencement of the Southern Gas Corridor to Europe.

"The launch of the Southern Gas Corridor will put an end to Europe's one pipe dependence and bring security of supply to the whole region of the South-Eastern Europe and far beyond," he said.

Plevneliev also noted the diversification and competition will contribute to energy market liberalization and ensure fair prices for everyone.

Later, a video address by President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso was featured.

In his video message Barroso said the Southern Gas Corridor will be a strategic energy avenue for the 21st century.

"The Corridor is more than a pipeline. It will be a strategic energy avenue for the 21st century, a true geostrategic project," he said.

Barroso also called the Southern Gas Corridor as the 'Contract of the 21st Century.'

In his remarks Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said he is grateful to Azerbaijan for energy cooperation and expressed confidence that this project will create a new gas corridor to Europe, change the energy map of the region and bring more great opportunities to the Caspian Sea region.

"It is an important project for all of us. Together with Azerbaijan and Turkey, we work on a very important railway project - Baku-Tbilisi-Kars - a project with global goals."

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras noted the Southern Gas Corridor is a model of global cooperation, which is becoming a reality.

"It is a vision becoming reality, connecting Europe with Asia through energy supply, energy security. It is vision of long term cooperation of the countries and the people of such an extended region," he said.

In his remarks BP Group chief executive Bob Dudley said Azerbaijan's energy is of strategic importance for the world markets.

"Today we are not only looking back to celebrate the last two decades. Today we are also looking ahead to the next chapter in Azerbaijan's energy story," Dudley said.

Albanian Energy and Industry Minister Damian Gjiknuri said the southern Gas Corridor is important for the future of the EU, for its security, "because the continent without option will not have safe future."

In his remarks Italian Deputy Minister for Economic Development Claudio De Vincenti said the Southern Gas corridor represents without a doubt a revolution of the Contract of the Century.

"The role of my country is in supporting the TAP project from the very beginning. TAP represents important drive for gas supply diversification for both Italy and Europe. One of the main goals envisaged by our national strategy is to continue improving our security of supply, especially in the gas sector. That is why the Italian government is committed to pursue the TAP project."

Prime Minister of Montenegro, Milo Dukanovic said the Southern Gas Corridor project is very important from the point of view of both the Contract of the Century and other contracts.

"Montenegro has become an integral part of this project. Thanks to the Memorandum of Understanding signed in Tirana and the conference organized in Baku, we have decided to participate in this project and have become part of becoming a reality of TAP and TANAP projects," Dukanovic said.

UK Minister of State for Trade and Investment Lord Ian Livingston also made a speech at the event. He said the Southern Gas Corridor will play an important role in diversifying the EU gas market and increasing the continent's energy security.

Later, Acting Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs of the U.S. Department of State Amos Hochstein read U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry's letter addressed to the event participants.

The letter said the Contract of the Century was a historic event representing the first major Western investment in the entire former Soviet Union.

"Over the past 20 years the U.S. has been a complete partner in Azerbaijan's efforts to develop its energy resources, contribute to European and world energy supplies, and become a strong and independent nation," the letter said.

Kerry also expressed hope for further close cooperation with Azerbaijan on all issues.

In his remarks Hochstein said the Contract of the Century was indeed historic and stood the test of two decades.

"No country in the world should be forced to depend on a single source and single supplier of energy. Diversification is big part of that answer," the diplomat said.

Later, President Aliyev, as well as officials from Georgia, Turkey, European countries and the U.S. attended the Southern Gas Corridor groundbreaking ceremony at the Sangachal terminal.

The president and ceremony participants signed on the pipeline, and it was put into the trench, after which President Aliyev along with other participants, poured ground into the trench.