In the 21st-century equivalent of the "Great Game", it seems that some Azeri ministers knew that there is likely to be only one winner in pipeline politics BP. Azerbaijan will become even more important in the future in supplying Europe with energy as new pipelines are planned to transport the vast oil and gas reserves in the Caspian Sea region westwards. But the US diplomatic cables show that in reality, despite threats and bluster from the government, it is BP who holds the key to how, when and where Azerbaijan's reserves are developed.
The president of Azerbaijan accused BP of stealing billions of dollars of oil from his country and using "mild blackmail" to secure the rights to develop vast gas reserves in the Caspian Sea region, according to leaked US cables. Ilham Aliyev said the oil firm tried to exploit his country's "temporary troubles" during a gas shortage in December 2006. In return for making more gas supplies available for domestic consumption that winter, BP wanted an extension of its lucrative profit-sharing contract with the government and the go-ahead to develop Caspian gas reserves, one cable from the US embassy in Baku reports. Aliyev also threatened to make BP's alleged "cheating" public, cables show.
Striking resemblances between BP's Gulf of Mexico disaster and a little-reported giant gas leak in Azerbaijan experienced by the UK firm 18 months beforehand have emerged from leaked US embassy cables. The cables reveal that some of BP's partners in the gas field were upset that the company was so secretive about the incident that it even allegedly withheld information from them. They also say that BP was lucky that it was able to evacuate its 212 workers safely after the incident, which resulted in two fields being shut and output being cut by at least 500,000 barrels a day with production disrupted for months.