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The people of the pipeline

The Oil Road, by James Marriott and Mika Minio-Paluello, reviewed by Andy Rowell

October 29, 2012
3 min read

The Oil Road brings to life the story of how crude oil moves from the Caspian to northern Europe. The authors follow the route of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline from Azerbaijan to Turkey. But their journey does not end there as they cross the Alps, following the Transalpine Pipeline that brings Caspian oil into the heart of Europe’s refineries and cities.

The BTC pipeline starts just south of Baku, a fast-growing city where the petro‑dollar is everywhere: from the fashion stores of ‘Oil Workers Avenue’ to the cruising Porsches and the infamous Billion-Dollar Bridge. This grey concrete construction, which cost huge sums to complete, is a symbol of the petro-corruption that engulfs Baku like a bad-smelling smog.

Along the route, Marriott and Minio‑Paluello seamlessly weave an engaging personal story into the current geopolitics of oil aggression and the volatile recent history of the region. Central to the story is BP, which promised a pipeline that would represent a new era of social and environmental responsibility.

The book systematically deconstructs BP’s false promises, as the authors meet affected communities and courageous individuals such as Arzu, a human rights campaigner who is on a list of people who might be killed by the authorities. ‘We ask them not to sell our democracy for oil. But do you think they’re listening?’ she asks.

Across the Caucasus they hear stories of the pipeline disrupting lives and livelihoods. They encounter intimidating security officials who tell them that BP does not like people snooping around.

In Tbilisi, they meet Manana, who helped local communities file complaints against the pipeline, which has become a ‘semi-forbidden zone’ and a ‘corridor of violence’. She too has been intimidated by the authorities.

In the Georgian mountains they meet villagers whose houses were damaged by the construction work but who were never compensated. Their protests were met by intimidation. In Turkey, too, anti-pipeline activists tell stories of beatings and torture.

The story ends in London, the financial capital that feeds much of our oil habit. The Oil Road is a vital tool in understanding – and breaking – the complex web of that addiction. It is a rich, rewarding read.

To find your nearest Oil Road campaign tour event visit www.platformlondon.org/events

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