The two massive earthquakes that devastated a large area of southern Turkey and northern Syria on February 6 are causing problems for Azerbaijan's oil exports.
Crude exports via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline and Turkey's main oil terminal at Ceyhan have been halted with no clear indication what the problem is or when exports can be restarted.
BP – the operator of Azerbaijan's giant Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil field, and co-owner of the pipeline and Ceyhan terminal – has confirmed that the BTC pipeline itself did not suffer any damage from the 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude quakes which hit February 6, or from the hundreds of aftershocks.
The problem is with the Ceyhan oil terminal on the Mediterranean at the end of the pipeline, where the oil is loaded onto tankers to be delivered to international markets. A notice of "force majeure" was declared on the evening of February 7 by the terminal operators, Botas International Limited – a subsidiary of Turkey's state-owned pipeline operator Botas.
That declaration means the problem has been caused by an irresistible force or unseen event beyond anyone's control, and that neither the companies exporting the crude oil to Ceyhan nor the terminal operators can be held responsible for any financial losses incurred by other companies such as shippers waiting to collect crude oil from the terminal.
Exports of crude oil and gas account for around 90 percent of Azerbaijan's export revenues, funding around 60 percent of government expenditure. A short break in exports will be unlikely to have any major impact on the Azeri economy, but a longer break would have consequences.
Currently it is still unclear what exactly is the problem with BTC's terminal in Ceyhan. BP has confirmed to Eurasianet only that a leak caused an oil spill at the terminal, that the leak has been repaired, and that "assessments are ongoing."
Turkey's Energy Ministry told Eurasianet that work to resolve the problem was continuing but did not specify the exact problem or how it was being resolved.
Reports in Turkish media claim that the terminal's control room was damaged by the earthquake but gave no indication of how long the damage would take to repair.
Earlier on February 8 a tanker started loading crude from Iraq which also arrives at Ceyhan and is exported from an adjacent terminal.
That seems to confirm that there is no general problem in the area preventing export of crude from the BTC pipeline, such as long-term power outages which have been reported in other areas more seriously hit by the earthquakes.
Currently crude oil from Azerbaijan is continuing to flow through the BTC pipeline to Ceyhan where it is being held in storage tanks. Storage capacity at the terminal is limited, however, and it is unclear how long the flow can continue before the tanks are full.
BP has told Eurasianet only that "assessments are continuing."
Vessel-monitoring website Marinetraffic.com showed six oil tankers anchored off Ceyhan on February 8, some of which will be waiting to collect cargoes of crude from Azerbaijan.
Exports through the BTC pipeline have increased since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Oil flow through the pipeline in December was 18 percent higher than in February 2022, the last month when flows were not affected by the conflict.
Starting in May last year BP stopped exporting oil through the pipeline between Baku and Georgia's port of Supsa due to the risks posed to oil tankers on the Black Sea by the war.
Exports by Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR and other Azerbaijani oil producers through another pipeline from Baku to the Russian port of Novorossiysk are believed to have stopped at around the same time, for the same reasons.
Late last year Kazakhstan's state oil company KazMunaiGas announced it had reached an agreement with SOCAR to export up to 1.5 million tons/year of its crude via the BTC line to Ceyhan.
Exports were reported as having started on February 7, although given current problems it's unclear how much of the Kazakh crude oil will have been put into the pipeline.
The BTC pipeline has also long carried crude oil from Turkmenistan and Russia.
In November last year reports indicated that the EU embargo on Russian crude had forced Russia's Lukoil to halt exports via the BTC pipeline, but exports from Turkmenistan, via Azerbaijan, are believed to be continuing.
David O’Byrne is an Istanbul-based journalist who covers energy.