Future impact of pipeline attacks may be devastating for Turkey

Future impact of pipeline attacks may be devastating for Turkey

A number of explosions have hit important energy pipelines in eastern and southeastern Turkey over the past month. Unless the required measures are taken to halt such attacks, they will have a devastating impact on Turkey’s strategic target of becoming a reliable energy corridor or energy hub in the future. 

The Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline was attacked in the southeastern province of Şırnak at the end of July. To understand the costs, let’s remember the written statement issued by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of northern Iraq, which condemned the attack. The KRG stated that repeated attempted thefts and sabotage attacks on the pipelines - which carry crude oil from the KRG to the Turkish port of Ceyhan - since July 27, have led to an almost complete stoppage in the flow of crude oil, costing around $250 million. 

Saboteurs then attacked a pipeline carrying natural gas from Iran to Turkey in the eastern province of Ağrı on July 28. The pipeline, which carries 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Iranian gas across the border to Turkey annually, frequently came under attack from Kurdish militants during the 1990s. Another explosion hit the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars-Erzurum gas pipeline, which carries around 6 bcm of Azeri gas to Turkey annually, in the early hours of Aug. 4.

The capacity of these pipelines is relatively small compared to the pipelines that are planned or desired to be established through Turkey, which wants to take much bigger share in Europe’s future energy needs through several future pipelines. Given the increasing demand for gas, experts predict that Europe will need to import 80 percent of its gas by 2030, compared to around 65 percent today. Although Europe plans to decrease its high dependency on Russian gas, Turkey will play a crucial role in the transportation of energy supplies to Europe from other neighboring countries, including Iraq or even Iran. 

According to a recent note by the Caspian Strategy Institute (HASEN), terrorist attacks on energy facilities increased to 20 percent of all terroristic attacks across the world in 2013, up from around 2.5 percent in the mid-1990s. A total 9,500 attacks were staged on energy facilities, mainly pipelines, between 1980 and 2012, according to data from the Energy Infrastructure Attacks database. A majority of these attacks took place in Iraq, Colombia and Pakistan, according to HASEN’s note. 

A number of serious measures must be taken immediately to prevent such attacks, as maintaining trust is the key to any country reaching its economic goals, including in the energy sector. This point is of particular importance for Turkey, which imports almost all its energy needs from neighboring countries. It is obvious that recent blasts have increased the risks for energy companies in doing business, especially in the eastern and southeastern parts of the country. 

Turkish officials have announced the deployment of thermal cameras and horse-back patrols to heighten security around key oil and gas pipelines in order to safeguard energy supplies. 

The question is whether such measures will be enough. It seems that they most certainly are not, as attacks will unfortunately continue for as long as the core reason behind the problem is not resolved. Thus, the continuation of the Kurdish peace process is also of crucial importance in order to maintain Turkey’s energy security and reliability - as well as saving lives.