Southern Gas Corridor

Location:

Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Italy

Project Risks:

Environmental Destruction, Litigation, Social Harm

Components:

Shah Deniz gas field, South Caucasus Pipeline (Azerbaijan and Georgia), Trans Anatolian Gas Pipeline (Turkey), Trans Adriatic Pipeline (Greece, Albania and Italy), Gas Interconnector Greece - Bulgaria (Greece and Bulgaria), Ionian Adriatic Pipeline (Albania, Montenegro and Croatia)[1] [2] [3]

Companies

Shah Deniz: BP plc, Türkiye Petrolleri AO (TPAO), State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), PJSC LUKOIL, National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC)

South Caucasus Pipeline:  BP plc, Türkiye Petrolleri AO (TPAO), State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), PJSC LUKOIL, National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC)

Trans Anatolian Pipeline: State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), BOTAS Boru Hatlari Ile Petrol Tasima AS, BP plc

Trans Adriatic Pipeline: BP plc, State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), Snam SpA, Fluxys NV, Enagás SA

Gas Interconnector Greece – Bulgaria: DEPA Commercial SA, Edison SpA, Bulgarian Energy Holding EAD

Ionian Adriatic Pipeline: PLINACRO d.o.o, Montenegro Bonus D.O.O. Cetinje, Albgaz Sh.a.

Interconnector TAP: Snam SpA

The Southern Gas Corridor stretches 3,500 km across Europe. The pipelines bring gas from the Caspian Sea through Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Albania, to Italy. More pipeline projects in Bulgaria, Montenegro and Croatia are underway. Source: Bankwatch

The Southern Gas Corridor: A Swath of Destruction Across Europe

The Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) is a gigantic fossil gas pipeline. It stretches 3,500 km (2,175 mi) from the shores of the Caspian Sea through Azerbaijan and Georgia, across the mountains of Greece and Albania, underneath the Adriatic Sea, to the heel of Italy.[4] The main components of the SGC are the Shah Deniz gas field and several connected pipelines: the South Caucasus Pipeline (SCP), the Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP), and the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP).[5] More pipeline projects are underway to supply European countries with gas from Azerbaijan.

From its origin to its end, the mega pipeline leaves a trail of corruption, destruction, and harm. The SGC flushes big profits into the coffers of despotic dictators and gas companies that are blind to human rights abuses. It runs against the goals of the Paris Agreement.[6] All of this comes at the cost of destroyed lands and livelihoods of those who live along the pipeline route.[7]

Azerbaijan: Rich in Gas, Void of Human Rights

The fossil gas that flows through the SGC begins its journey at the coast of Azerbaijan. It comes from the Shah Deniz gas field in the Caspian Sea.[8] From there, it makes its way through the South Caucasus Pipeline (SCP), the first critical piece of the SGC. The SCP runs 692 km (430 mi) through Azerbaijan and Georgia until it reaches the next pipeline section at the Turkish-Georgian border.[9] The oil and gas giant BP is leading the international consortium of companies that are involved in the Shah Deniz gas field and SCP. BP’s partners are TPAO, SOCAR, LUKOIL and NIOC.[10]

Azerbaijan is rich in oil and gas, but void of human rights and democratic standards.[11] The Aliyev family has ruled the country since the 1990s. Current president Ilham Aliyev inherited the presidency from his father Heydar Aliyev in 2003.[12] Since Ilham Aliyev came into power, he has not held one single free and fair election.[13] It is an open secret that Aliyev’s party secures its majority through widespread double voting and lack of political choice.[14]

The police commonly intimidates, arrests and tortures dissenters of the political regime in Azerbaijan.[15] In February 2020, police forces kicked, punched and arrested journalists who reported on election fraud until their faces were covered in blood.[16] One member of the political opposition, who has been imprisoned on spurious claims, faced torture in prison.[17] Policemen beat him up to make him testify in front of a camera for crimes he had not committed.[18] Human rights organizations estimate that by the end of 2021, the Aliyev regime held up to 122 political prisoners.14501

Azerbaijan’s Gas Between Crime and Corruption

Amidst these human rights violations, Azerbaijan has spared no efforts to whitewash its international reputation. Over a two-year period between 2012 and 2014, the political elite of Azerbaijan channelled USD 2.9 billion through a huge money-laundering network into the pockets of regime-friendly politicians and journalists in Azerbaijan and Europe.[20] Although its precise origin is unclear, the money that flushed through the so-called Azerbaijan laundromat traces back to the Aliyev family.[21] Without this dirty money, the SGC may have never secured the necessary financial and political support from Europe.[22]

The companies behind Shah Deniz and the SCP are also entangled in corruption scandals in Azerbaijan and beyond. In 2022, leaked documents revealed that BP turned a blind eye to corruption allegations around the Shah Deniz project. Although workers alarmed the British company about excessively high costs, missing wages and potential money laundering at Shah Deniz, BP continued with business as usual.14503 Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil and gas company SOCAR, the main operator of SCP, played a central role in a major international corruption scandal and criminal case.[23][24] SOCAR partly owns the company Electrogas which operates a gas-fired power plant on Malta.[25] In 2015, Electrogas and SOCAR signed a secretive and lucrative deal. This deal guarantees SOCAR exclusive rights to supply overpriced gas to Malta.[26]

Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia did not want this dodgy deal to go through at the cost of Maltese citizens.[27] Galizia investigated the deal, to find an opaque network of companies and money that flowed between Azerbaijan, the Maltese government, and Dubai-based companies.[28] [29] Her investigations eventually cost her her life.[30] In 2017, before Daphne Caruana Galizia could release her findings, hitmen killed her with a car bomb.[31] Business tycoon Yorgen Fenech is the alleged mastermind behind Galizia’s murder who now faces trial before Maltese courts.[32] Fenech used to be the director and co-owner of Electrogas and business partner of SOCAR.[33]

The memorial for murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia illuminated by candles. People have brought flowers and signs on which they demand justice and truth. Source: StockPhotoAstur / Alamy Stock Foto

Profits over Human Rights

None of this is stopping oil and gas giant BP from teaming up with SOCAR and the government of Azerbaijan for Shah Deniz and SCP. BP remains completely silent on the human rights violations in Azerbaijan.[34] For BP and the government of Azerbaijan, this is a win-win situation. BP remains loyal and silent to maintain its access to the Shah Deniz gas field, the largest gas discovery BP has ever made.[35] In return, the Aliyev regime profits from the oil and gas industry that flushes revenues into the state’s coffers.[36]

BP’s loyalty to the Aliyev regime does not go unnoticed. Investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova is one of those who observes the close ties between BP and the government of Azerbaijan. The police imprisoned the critical journalist on arbitrary charges for 1.5 years in 2014.[37] Before her arrest, Khadija Ismayilova warned:

“BP bear a responsibility for what is happening in Azerbaijan. BP is one of the reasons why the west is very hesitant about any changes in this country. The Aliyev regime is good for BP. It allows their operations and they can sort out issues with the regime”.[38] Journalist Khadija Ismayilova, imprisoned in 2014.

Khadija Ismayilova investigates the traces between BP and the government of Azerbaijan. Source: Aziz Karimov, Alamy

On its way to European markets, fossil gas from Azerbaijan passes another authoritarian state: Turkey.[39] At the Turkish-Georgian border, SCP connects with the second segment of the SGC, the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP). TANAP runs 1,841 km (1,144 mi) through 20 Turkish provinces and nearly 600 villages.[40] [41] NGOs suspect that TANAP could have a severe impact on local people in Turkey.[42] Whether this has been the case can hardly be confirmed in a country with restricted freedom of speech and access to information.[43]

A Pipeline Steals and Destroys the Land

Wherever the Southern Gas Corridor passes through a democratic society, opposition has been fierce. The last 878 km (545 mi) section of the SGC, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), runs through Greece, Albania and underneath the Adriatic Sea until it comes ashore in the southern Italian region of Salento. Along this route, the companies behind TAP took the lands of 45,000 people, destroyed vast olive groves and fueled intense protests.[44]

Around Kavala, an agricultural region in Greece, farmers and citizens did not want a pipeline that took their lands and jobs.[45] They protested on the streets and filed complaints and lawsuits.[46] Many of them felt sidelined by the gas companies who had not sufficiently consulted them sufficiently about TAP.[47] Near the village of Zygos, one farmer was unaware that TAP would cross his lands.[48] He only found out on the day that the companies showed up with bulldozers and diggers.[49] The same happened to another farmer in Thessaloniki who called the police to stop the companies. After the farmer and the police left the scene, the companies continued their path of destruction across his fields.[50]

Olive Trees in the Way of a Pipeline

In the steep Albanian mountains, where once vast olive groves and fruit orchards used to grow, TAP has left barren stretches of land.[51] SOCAR, BP and their partners bulldozed the rural area where many farmers and their families live off the olive and fruit harvest.[52] The compensations the companies handed out to the farmers barely covered the lost property and income.[53] One farmer in Berat county in central Albania received only the equivalent of a year’s income for his destroyed olive trees.[54] The companies simply ignored that it takes 15 to 20 years until newly planted olive trees bear fruit again.[55] They threatened those who disagreed with forced expropriation.[56] [57]

TAP crosses the Albanian mountains, olive groves and fruit orchards. The pipeline corridor cuts through the landscape. Source: Martin Siepmann, Alamy

Opposition to TAP has by far been greatest in Italy. On the Salento peninsula, the last part of SGC carves through the lands that belong to hundreds of families. It carves through lands on which more than 10,000 olive trees once used to grow, some of them more than 400 years old.[58] [59] The companies have ripped out many thousands of these trees to make way for TAP.[60] Olive trees are of immense value to the local people. They used to be the backbone of their livelihoods and nurtured their feelings of home.[61] Now, many of the olive trees are gone.

To fight for their century-old trees, the people launched the NoTAP movement. In 2017, when the bulldozers arrived at the olive groves, local teenagers, elders, mayors, and activists stood in between the trees and the heavy machinery to protect the basis of their livelihoods. The police met their peaceful and colorful protest with violence. In March 2021, Italian courts handed out sentences to the protestors that add up to decades of imprisonment.[62]

Residents of the town of Melendugno and members of the NoTAP movement are protesting against the destruction of olive trees in March 2017. The companies have already wrapped the olive trees in textile, ready to uproot and remove them. Credit: Alessandra Tomassi, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In contrast, Italian courts have taken their time to open a court case against the pipeline companies.[63] After several postponements, the courts are now hearing a case against TAP.[64] TAP AG, the joint venture through which BP and its partners own the pipeline, faces charges for environmental disaster.[65] The prosecutor argues that the companies behind TAP removed olive trees and polluted groundwater with industrial wastewater without a valid permit.[66] [67] The trial is ongoing. If confirmed, the court may revoke TAP’s environmental permit, without which the companies could have never built the Italian pipeline section.[68]

On Track to Further Expansion

The spiderweb of gas pipelines that delivers fossil gas from Azerbaijan to all over Europe is growing. Many companies are planning and building connecting pipelines that will branch off the Southern Gas Corridor and pump more gas across the continent. The Gas Interconnector Greece - Bulgaria (IGB) is one of those connecting pipelines.[69] Since October 2022, the IGB could pump parts of the gas from the Southern Gas Corridor into the Bulgarian gas network.14505 From Bulgaria, another proposed pipeline could bring the Azerbaijani gas into Serbia.[71] Similarly, the Ionian Adriatic Pipeline (IAP) is a proposed pipeline to pump the gas 540 km (336 mi) from TAP through Albania, Montenegro and Croatia.[72]

For the gas companies, the growing network of connecting pipelines and the global energy crisis are a welcome opportunity to scale up the SGC. SOCAR, BOTAS and BP are planning to expand TANAP’s capacity to 31 billion cubic meters by 2026.[73] Also, the companies behind TAP want to double the amount of gas they pump into Europe.[74] 14507

No Done Deal

Although the SGC began operations on its whole length during the last days of 2020, it is not a done deal. Whether the SGC will expand, is a matter of money. Those institutions that provide financial support to the companies behind SGC are writing a blank check for destroyed lands and livelihoods and further human rights abuses in Azerbaijan and across Europe.

Groups working on the Southern Gas Corridor: Platform London, Amnesty International, Bankwatch, 350.org, Oil Change International, Re:Common, CounterBalance, BankWatch, NO TAP, Defund TAP

Sources:

Atlantic Council, 2018. Europe’s Southern Gas Corridor: The Italian (Dis)connection p.4 https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/in-depth-research-reports/issue-brief/europe-s-southern-gas-corridor-the-italian-dis-connection/
Complaint to the European Ombudsman – Failure of the European Investment Bank (EIB) to ensure proper climate impact assessment for Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) and Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) projects: https://bankwatch.org/publication/a-complaint-to-the-european-ombudsman
United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, 2021. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021. (https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/az…), p.13
https://www.occrp.org/en/investigations/bp-turned-a-blind-eye-to-corruption-in-…
Culture Unstained, June 2017. Bad Company: BP, human rights and corporate crimes, p.6 https://cultureunstained.org/badcompany/
Counter Balance, 2018. The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline: identified non-compliance with the Equator Principles, p.9 https://counter-balance.org/publications/trans-adriatic-pipeline-identified-non-compliance-with-equator-principles
Counter Balance, 2017. The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline project: identified non-compliance with the Equator Principles, p.13-15 https://counter-balance.org/publications/trans-adriatic-pipeline-identified-non-compliance-with-equator-principles
Counter Balance, 2018. The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline: identified non-compliance with the Equator Principles, p.14 https://counter-balance.org/publications/trans-adriatic-pipeline-identified-non-compliance-with-equator-principles
CEE Bankwatch Network, July 2016. ‘We have no other option’. Preparation of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline in Albania Fact Finding Mission Report: https://bankwatch.org/blog/we-have-no-other-option-albanian-communities-face-unjust-resettlement-process-for-trans-adriatic-pipeline
CEE Bankwatch Network, November 2017. Land lost but not forgotten. Impacts of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline on the land and livelihoods of farmers in Albania, p.4 https://bankwatch.org/blog/between-tap-and-a-hard-place-albanian-farmers-receive-peanuts-after-losing-land-and-livelihoods-to-gas-pipeline
CEE Bankwatch Network, July 2016. ‘We have no other option’. Preparation of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline in Albania Fact Finding Mission Report, https://bankwatch.org/blog/we-have-no-other-option-albanian-communities-face-unjust-resettlement-process-for-trans-adriatic-pipeline
Counter Balance, 2018. The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline: identified non-compliance with the Equator Principles, p.15 https://counter-balance.org/publications/trans-adriatic-pipeline-identified-non-compliance-with-equator-principles