Geopolitics and Petropolitics Over the Caspian Sea

Via John C. K. Daly at UPI, a very detailed analysis of the Caspian region. While the report is written from the perspective of the search for hydrocarbons, it offers a careful look at some of the very real geopolitical complexities – and long-term environmental & hydrological implications – that may arise over the Caspian Sea, the subject of rancorous debate among Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Iran and Turkmenistan. Thus, while the “race” may be for what is under the water than the water itself, it seems like the Caspian is going to on the water politics agenda for sometime going forward. As the article notes:

“…Since the Soviet collapse, the Caspian’s importance has dramatically increased even as the states that surround it exploit its riches. Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have increased their output in the last 15 years by 70 percent, while Russia is now vying with Saudi Arabia for the title of the world’s leading energy producer, producing roughly 10 million barrels per day….

…Even the legal status of the sea is a bone of contention: The 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea has yet to decide definitively whether the international law of the sea or the law of inland lakes applies to the Caspian. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the Caspian’s legal status remains determined by the 1921 and 1940 treaties signed by the Soviet Union and Iran, with no definitive post-Soviet agreement in sight.

Environmental degradation in the Caspian, the world’s largest enclosed body of water, dates back to Soviet times. Its major tributary, the Volga, which accounts for 80 percent of the Caspian’s inflow and the bulk of its pollutants, traverses Russia’s European heartland.

…Kashagan, however, represents the riskiest environmental frontier of new Caspian exploration. The North Caspian is extremely shallow, bottoming out at about 10 feet in spots above Kashagan, raising the risk of winter mobile-ice formations destroying offshore facilities. Equally worrying to ecologists is that farther south Azeri offshore concessions are located in seismically active zones.

…The possible development of a trans-Caspian underwater natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Baku, strongly promoted by Western interests, has only added to environmentalists’ fears. The project has united Russia and Iran in opposition despite political differences between Moscow and Tehran on the final delineation of the Caspian seabed. Iran wants the Caspian treated as a single unit jointly managed, developed and defended by the five littoral states.

A joint consensus of the five Caspian states seems to be slowly emerging. Two months ago, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Russia and Turkmenistan issued a 25-point declaration that stated in Point 11, “Recognizing their responsibility to the present and future generations for the preservation of the Caspian Sea and the integrity of its ecosystem, the parties stress the importance of expanding cooperation in solving environmental problems, including coordination of national environmental actions and cooperation with international environmental organizations in order to form a regional system of protecting and preserving biological variety, rational use and replenishment of its biological resources.”

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 1st, 2008 at 3:47 pm and is filed under Azerbaijan, Caspian Sea, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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