BP Says BTC Reopened, Tankers to Resume Loadings

CEYHAN, Turkey (Combined Sources)–British oil company BP said Monday it has reopened the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which runs through conflict-stricken Georgia.

Tankers will begin loading oil Tuesday from the BTC pipeline for the first time since a fire affected the main outlet for Azeri crude to U.S. and European markets almost three weeks ago.

"The first tanker will dock after midnight tonight,” said Murat Lecompte, an Istanbul-based spokesman for BP Plc, the main operator of the BTC link. "Loadings have not actually started yet,” he said, revising an earlier statement from BP saying tankers were being loaded today.

Tuesday’s start to loadings follows repairs and testing after the pipe was closed on Aug. 5 when an explosion sparked a blaze on the 1,768-kilometer (1,100-mile) pipeline. The BTC carries as much as 1 million barrels of Azeri crude each day through Georgia to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.

The first tanker will take up to 15 hours to fill, depending on its size, Lecompte said in a phone interview. An average of two tankers are loaded daily when oil flows at normal levels.

"Flows will increase throughout the day today,” Lecompte said. “Maximum rates will be reached overnight.”

Azerbaijan sent oil to export via Iran because of the disruption, with Iranian Oil Terminals Co. receiving the first cargo for transit yesterday, according to the Iranian Oil Ministry’s news agency, Shana. Iran can handle 200,000 barrels a day of Caspian and Central Asian crude and could boost the volume to 500,000 barrels daily under swap agreemen’s, Shana said on its web site. It didn’t specify how much Azeri crude Iran received.

The pipeline is pumping at about 70 percent capacity, said Huseyin Sagir, a spokesman for Botas International Ltd., BP’s Turkish partner. Crude was pumped over the weekend to replenish storage depots at Ceyhan and has now reached sufficient levels, he said. The depots have a capacity of 7 million barrels, and would take at least a week to fill if the line were running at full strength.

Sabotage wasn’t the cause of the BTC fire, the ministry said, disputing claims by the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, that it bombed the pipeline. The PKK is seeking autonomy for Kurds in Turkey.

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