Caspian Sea: The Headache of Sharing It Out

By Lieutenant Colonel (ret.) Renaud FRANÇOIS
ESISC Research Associate

Ever since 1991, the Caspian Sea Basin has been considered as one of the largest energy reserves awaiting major development. According to the U.S. Energy Agency, the subsoil of this immense land-locked sea measuring 374,000 km² and its immediate coastal area contain around 250 billion barrels of proven petroleum reserves and some 200 billion additional unproven reserves. The same American agency believes that there are natural gas reserves of around 9.2 trillion m3. Taking an average base price of 50 Euros per barrel of crude oil and 200 Euros per 1,000 m3 of gas, the number we can put to the proven reserves reaches the colossal sum of 4 trillion Euros.

Obviously, such resources place the region at the centre of ferocious competition. Once limited to Russia and the United States, it is now open to many other actors, including China, South Korea, India, Japan and the European Union. The legal headache of dividing up this sea poses a serious obstacle to its use and, consequently, to the economic development of the region. The absence of a treaty on the status of the Caspian Sea has, for example, blocked many Western projects including those of a trans-Caspian gas pipeline (estimated to cost nearly 4 billion Euros and to have an annual throughput capacity of 30 billion m3) between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan; it is also seriously slowing down the European project called Nabucco .1

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