Following successful test consignments this month of oil from Kazakhstan transited across the Caspian Sea into a pipeline running from Azerbaijan to Turkey, the volume of deliveries through that route is projected to reach 125,000 tons in April.
Even at that rate, however, Kazakhstan is set to fall short of its earlier declared intention of pumping 1.5 million tons of its oil through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.
Kazakh oil transportation company KazTransOil announced in a statement this week that it had delivered a maiden consignment of almost 10,000 tons of crude from the port of Aktau on an Azerbaijan-owned tanker that was to dock in Baku. Another equivalent amount of oil, also sourced from the Tengiz field, which is being developed by a joint venture 50 percent owned by U.S. major Chevron, is due for delivery by the end of this month.
In an earlier statement, KazTransOil said 7,000 tons of oil was to be shipped in March to Baku from the Kashagan field.
Kazakhstan had expected to begin this experiment by substantially boosting its non-Russia-transiting oil exports earlier in the year until a natural disaster struck.
“In early February, after the earthquakes in Turkey, KazTransOil … received a notice of force majeure due to the temporary suspension of loading operations at the Ceyhan sea terminal,” KazTransOil said in its March 27 statement. “In connection with that, the export of oil from the port of Aktau to Baku with further transportation through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline was suspended.”
That delay means, if the April tempo is maintained throughout 2023, that the amount of Kazakh oil delivered via Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan will be closer to 1.15 million tons.
As things stand, almost all of Kazakhstan’s oil exports cross Russian territory, a situation that has over the last year left it open to the occasional caprices of its northern neighbor.
According to figures produced by state holding company Samruk-Kazyna, more than 80 percent of Kazakhstan’s 64.3-million-ton oil exports in 2022 were carried through the Caspian Pipeline Consortium route, which starts at Tengiz and runs across Russia for many hundreds of kilometers. This oil is typically sold to buyers in Italy, France and the Netherlands. The amount could have been greater had operations at the CPC not been interrupted on four separate occasions. Industry insiders speculated that the technical motivations cited as the grounds for those stoppages might have been the result of politically motivated meddling as Russia seeks to bring Kazakhstan to heel.
Most of the other options of note are Russia-controlled. Around 13 percent of Kazakh oil sent abroad last year was fed via the Atyrau-Samara pipeline into Russian state-controlled Transneft’s network. Samruk-Kazyna says part of this oil is delivered to buyers in Europe in tankers sailing from Russia’s Baltic Sea port of Ust-Luga.
Another 3.6 percent of the oil was sent by sea from Aktau – not to Baku, but to the Russian port city of Makhachkala. Those 2.3 million tons were considerably more than the estimated 109,000 tons of Kazakh crude fed into Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan over the same period.
This last set of figures highlights how the limit to Kazakhstan’s unspoken aspirations to grow how much crude it sends to Europe on routes circumventing Russia is set by bottlenecks in Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and the railroad network rather than restricted capacity at the country’s Caspian ports. So much so that the Kazakh industry and infrastructure development minister complained last March that Aktau and another port, Kuryk, were operating at only 23 percent of potential capacity.