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'Overloaded' Bosphorus needs relief, gov't, oil companies agree

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 7/1/2010 12:00:00 AM |

The government and major oil companies have agreed in principle that precautionary measures must be taken to protect Istanbul’s heavily trafficked Bosphorus Strait.

Government officials and representatives of major oil companies have agreed in principle that precautionary measures must be taken to protect Istanbul’s heavily trafficked Bosphorus Strait from an environmentally disastrous oil spill.

“Oil-tanker transportation through the straits is not sustainable anymore,” Environment Minister Veysel Eroğlu said Thursday at a press conference following a summit between Turkish officials and representatives of some 20 energy companies.

Restrictions on the number of tankers passing through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits, and an eventual transition to transporting oil through land-based pipelines were among the suggested measures that Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said were welcomed by the multinational firms present, which included Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron and BP.

“[BP] is aware that safety and security on the straits is crucial for the lives of people and the environment,” BP Turkey’s Murat Lecompte told journalists.

Yıldız said at the post-meeting press conference that the government’s aim is not to discourage the shipping of oil and gas, but rather to find alternative ways to relieve the overloaded straits, such as shifting to land-based bypass pipeline routes.

“The Baku-Ceyhan pipeline route has relieved the tanker traffic in the straits of 50 million tons of oil annually,” the energy minister said, adding that if this route had not been built, there would be 24 or 25 tankers passing through the straits each day instead of 20.

Though pipeline transportation is generally more expensive than shipping, companies will have to make the change “sooner or later,” said Laurent Ruseckas of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, adding that any restrictions “must make economic sense and be fairly posed to all the companies using the straits.”

The meeting, to which nongovernmental organizations focusing on the environment and maritime safety were also invited, was the first step in a larger process that will last three to four years, Yıldız said.

Other measures discussed including restricting the number of tankers passing through the straits or limiting the size of the loads the carry; limiting the number of old tankers; and sharing the cost of insurance with companies that use the straits.

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