Court opens way for legal challenge to BP's £2bn Caspian pipeline

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The Independent Online

A court ruling in Georgia has called into question BP's £2bn project to build a pipeline to take Caspian oil out to a Mediterranean port.

BP is the leading shareholder in the 1,750-kilometre pipeline and has already started building it. However, a court in Georgia, one of the three countries it passes through, has ruled that the process which led officials to approve the venture can be subject of a legal challenge.

There are allegations that BP "leaned on" the Georgian authorities to get the pipeline approved, at the end of last year, in contravention of the country's environmental laws. The project also enjoys heavy backing from the US government, which is also said to have put pressure on Georgia to agree.

A campaigning group, Green Alternative, backed by international NGOs including Friends of the Earth, said it has received notification from the Georgian District Court that it can go ahead with a court action on the approval process. Campaigners say the project would lead to environmental damage and trespass on the rights of people living in the path of the pipe.

The pipeline will run from Baku in Azerbaijan, through Tbilisi in Georgia and end up at Ceyhan in Turkey, from where it will be loaded onto tankers. The pipeline provides an alternative to relying on Russia as the exit route for Caspian oil and it opens up the region's energy resources as an alternative to the unstable Middle East.

Manana Kochladze, of Green Alternative, said: "Georgian legislation, the state constitution as well as the Host Country Government Agreement's strictures on access to information, have all been brushed aside."

According to Green Alternative, Georgia's environment minister, Nino Chkobadze, was against the project and told BP's chief executive, Lord Browne, in a letter that it was "asking the Georgian government to violate its won environmental legislation". She was overruled by Georgia's president, Eduard Shevardnadze.

A BP spokesman said he was unaware of the ruling. He said all land through which the pipeline runs would be restored.