Hasan Alsancak – Critical Energy Infrastructure Security (Oil & Gas Pipelines) in Turkey & Caucasus: From Geopolitical and Regional Security Perspective

Hasan Alsancak – Critical Energy Infrastructure Security (Oil & Gas Pipelines) in Turkey & Caucasus: A Comprehensive Case Study from Geopolitical and Regional Security Perspective(*)

Hasan Alsancak is a former Turkish police chief and subject matter expert in critical energy infrastructure security and protection.



Situated between main global energy suppliers and consumers, as well as being a significant stable power which bridges Europe and Asia, Turkey’s place in the global energy system is drawing greater attention from the international community. 

The new discourse on Turkey’s role as a regional energy hub, through fulfilling new responsibilities under the terms of new international projects, is only adding to the attention it is receiving.  

Analysis of Turkey’s place within the global energy system often focuses on the issues of energy supply continuity as well as on the political implications of alternative energy route projects on regional and international levels.  However, critical energy infrastructure security is often neglected in policy circles and in academic studies. 


Critical Energy Infrastructure Security plays an integral, though the often neglected role in overall energy security.  With respect to critical infrastructure, pipeline security (oil and gas) is of particular importance in Turkey. 


Consideration needs to be given to the specific context of ‘geopolitical and security conditions’ in Turkey.  Policy prescriptions of international actors -composed of regional oil & gas exporting countries and international energy companies- as well as advice from the energy sector are also imperatives requiring evaluation.  


Geopolitics, Turkey, and Critical Energy Infrastructure Security


Turkey’s geographic location enhances its geostrategic value; it is situated between major oil and gas reserves with 70%  of the world’s reserve lying to its East, North, and South, and the world’s largest energy market lying to her West. Potential project development can easily transform Turkey into an energy hub.  These projects include the addition of Kazakh and Turkmen energy resources to the Baku-Erzurum route, the possibility of a natural gas pipeline to be extended to Israel and the Middle East, and the potential of Turkey to transit Caspian oil and gas by alternative routes.  Given its unique position, Turkey´s objective of being an energy hub for “East-West” and “North-South” energy corridors is not just an ambition. 

Considering the fact that European gas supplies come primarily from Russia, the idea of having alternative non-Russian gas, namely Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Iranian and Iraqi gas via Turkey is daily becoming more important.  In other words, the restructuring of alternative energy transportation routes is not a luxury but an obligation for European consumers as well as for Caspian and Middle Eastern gas and oil suppliers.  In addition, Turkey’s large population and its growing economy have made the country a significant regional energy consumer, thus increasing its involvement in these international projects not only as a transport country but also as a large end-consumer.


Critical Energy Infrastructure Security and Oil & Gas Pipelines

Crude Oil Pipelines

Currently, Turkey hosts numerous pipelines that extend across the country.  These pipelines were pioneered by the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) crude oil pipeline.  Nearly 670 miles of the pipeline’s overall 1100 miles pass within Turkish borders.  The BTC pipeline is the first transnational pipeline that transports Caspian oil without crossing Russian soil.  It carries approximately one million barrels of crude oil per day and accounts for 1.2% of the world’s current daily oil needs.  In addition, the BTC pipeline has great importance for connecting the East-West energy corridor.  In addition, BTC serves not only as a pipeline but also connects the related countries in terms of foreign policy and economics. It thus creates an interdependent regional system which is key for regional cooperation and peace. 

Another important transnational pipeline in Turkey is the Iraq-Turkey Crude Oil Pipeline (Kirkuk-Ceyhan).  There are also three domestic pipelines constructed for the transportation of crude oil from Turkey’s south-eastern region to domestic points of consumption in the country.  These are the Batman-Dörtyol crude oil pipeline, the Ceyhan-Kırıkkale crude oil pipeline, and the Selmo-Batman crude oil pipeline.  There is also a NATO pipeline and the planned Trans-Anatolian crude oil pipeline running from Samsun to Ceyhan, which is currently in the pre-construction phase.


Gas Pipelines

Parallel to these crude oil pipelines, there are also several inter-governmental gas pipelines in operation that pass over Turkish soil.  The Blue Stream gas pipeline between Russia and Turkey is one of the most important of these.  The Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum (BTE) (South Caucasus Pipeline) and Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) pipelines are among others in operation.  The Turkey-Greece interconnector is yet another.

Russia, on the other hand, invited Turkey to be a member of the South Stream Project. This indicates a dramatic change in Turkish-Russian relations.  Turkey’s multiple pipeline policy, which reflects Turkey’s multi-dimensional foreign policy, has become one of the main pillars of Turkey’s goal of providing for both an East-West as well as a  North-South energy corridor.

As a result of these assessments, Turkey’s geostrategic position appears advantageous for the country.  However, such a role also implies considerable responsibilities regarding the protection of this critical energy infrastructure that serves not only Turkey but the region and the world.  Hosting a major energy corridor means that infrastructure that inhabits it must be secure in order to provide for sustained and reliable energy transport.


Critical Energy Infrastructure and Security Challenges

Regardless of how one defines it, energy security always includes the protection of critical energy infrastructure as a crucial element of the energy sector.  It is accepted by experts that terrorist attacks and illegal tappings (theft) have important economic implications on oil prices since a security-related premium of between $1 – $25 per barrel or higher is factored in by traders. Thus, terrorist sabotage and theft from oil infrastructure, facilities make economies more vulnerable to the rising price of oil. 

Particularly in unstable regions, oil and gas infrastructure has become one of the most strategic targets for terrorists.  Much of this infrastructure is located above ground, and as such oil and natural gas pipelines and related facilities like pumping stations, block valves, compressors etc.  become exposed to terrorist attacks as high profile targets.  Besides this, political disturbances, economic crises, and rising oil prices contribute to attracting terrorist activities at energy facilities in these regions.

Al-Qaeda argues that priority should be given to attacking oil facilities in the Middle East.  After Osama bin Laden’s call for attacks against oil in December 2004, and Ayman al-Zawahiri’s repeat of the call in autumn 2005, the terrorist attack on Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia’s giant oil processing facility, was the first direct attack by al-Qaeda.  Even if the attack was announced as a failed terrorist attack by official Saudi statements, on news of the attempted attack, the price of crude oil increased as much as 3.4%.  The attack was not only proof of the vulnerability of Saudi oil but also the importance of oil as a target of terrorist elements. The direct terrorist challenge to producers is not merely specific to the Middle East.  For many energy supplier countries, particularly Iraq, Colombia, Nigeria, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Russia and Eurasian countries, the protection of critical energy infrastructure from terrorism has become the highest priority.

Energy Terrorism

The terror organizations have also declared pipelines as soft targets in the country. According to media reports since 2004, the  Turkish section of the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline and the Iran-Turkey gas pipeline were attacked several times.

Illegal Tapping

Another major threat to pipeline security is illegal tapping.  There has been a considerable decrease in the number of these illegal tapping incidents, thanks to proactive efforts by Turkey’s security organizations, particularly the Gendarmerie, other related government agencies and advanced electronic detection security systems along the pipeline.  Nevertheless, the considerable demand for contraband oil in the market, which makes the risk of illegal tapping remains high.


Solutions to Security Challenges to Critical Energy Infrastructures

In light of the above, it is not difficult to assess that in the 21st-century energy and energy security has become much more critical than in previous decades.  Unfortunately, contrary to the huge market value and importance of energy companies, current security measures and standards for oil & gas facilities, pipelines and nuclear energy plants are not as sophisticated as they might be.  With the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, terrorists proved that current terrorism methods have reached the phase of “asymmetric terror,” which means the targets themselves will be an operative material of terrorist attacks.  In doing so, terrorists demonstrated the maximum advantage in inflicting large-scale damage with a low level of logistical requirements compared to classic terrorist tactics.

The complicated nature of energy security challenges requires collaboration between government- and market-oriented approaches to set up longer energy security agreements at national and international levels.  In other words, strategic alliances between government agencies and the energy sector can be one of the mitigation factors against energy terrorism. 


Global Organizations ( NATO, UN, EU, and OSCE) & Critical Energy Infrastructure Security

NATO, with its proven operational land, air, and maritime capabilities, has a key role in the provision of critical energy infrastructure protection.  Since NATO’s capable stance as a means to provide energy security is obvious, it would be correct to state that no energy security strategy can be formed and implemented without considering the capacity of NATO, especially for energy security in the resource-rich Caucasus, Caspian Basin, and the Middle East.  Considering its responsibility for securing multinational pipelines, Turkey has to be proactive and to take concrete steps on energy security within a NATO framework and to become one of the participants in determining a larger global energy security agenda.  While having a proactive stance and taking decisive action in NATO, Turkey should not exclude the EU dimension from its macro-level approach to energy security as well.  As a European Union candidate, Turkey is required to pay more attention to cooperation with the EU on regional security concerns in general, and on energy security and counter-terrorism in particular, in order to protect its common interests with its European neighbors.  The UN and OSCE also can be considered as other major partners for the protection of critical energy infrastructure on a global level.  In addition to the EU, NATO, UN and OSCE, more concrete cooperation on energy infrastructure security can be considered with related countries in pipeline projects such as Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Iraq, Iran, Kazakhstan and others.


Specialized State Protection Forces & Critical Energy Infrastructure Security

According to IGA (Inter-Governmental Agreement) Article III and HGA (Host Government Agreement) -Article 12 of the BTC Pipeline, “Turkish State Authorities are responsible to ensure the safety and security of the Rights to Land, the Facilities and all Persons within the Territory involved in Project Activities and shall protect the Rights to Land, the Facilities and those Persons from all Loss or Damage resulting from civil war, sabotage, vandalism, blockade, revolution, riot, insurrection, civil disturbance, terrorism, kidnapping, commercial extortion, organized crime or other destructive events.” Moreover, according to the Turkish State’s Law on Transit of Petroleum through Pipeline- No: 4586 (TPL)- Article 6, “additional security of the pipeline and the facilities shall be provided by the relevant security forces of the State, provided that the relevant public institute meets the expenses related to the required building, facility, tools, vehicle, equipment, etc.” These articles clearly show that the Turkish government is fully responsible for the protection of transit pipelines across its territory.

To comply with these responsibilities, a reassessment of the energy security chapter of the Turkish National Security Strategy paper can be re-prioritized to further strengthen the current status of energy security measures so that the issue receives the attention it requires and deserves.  Mitigation measures might be further reinforced by the establishment of a new institutional/organizational framework within the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (like the one in the US) or within the Armed Forces, which will specifically deal with energy infrastructure security.

There are several examples of dedicated state security organizations for energy security throughout the world.  For example, the Saudi government, in collaboration with the US, began to establish the “Facilities Security Force” to protect national oil facilities.  Other countries, for example, Turkey’s partners in the BTC project—Azerbaijan and Georgia—have established dedicated security departments, “Special State Protection Service” (SSPS) in Azerbaijan and a “Strategic Pipeline Protection Department” (SPPD) in Georgia, specifically designated within their national administrations for the protection of energy infrastructure and facilities.

Currently, more than 99% of the BTC pipeline passes through rural areas under Gendarmerie jurisdiction as one of their security responsibilities.  Establishment of a similar department within the Turkish Armed Forces that exclusively focuses on critical energy infrastructure in close cooperation with other national security forces will solidify Turkey’s position as a reliable energy corridor and increase the attraction of the country for further energy transportation projects.


Legal Framework & Critical Energy Infrastructure Security

A convenient legal framework on energy infrastructure is a must-have requirement to protect these facilities from illegal tapping and sabotage threats.  In Turkey, the crime of theft (illegal tapping) from pipelines is subject to two different articles of the Turkish Penal Code, which are Qualified Theft by the Turkish Penal Code (TPC) 142/3 and Qualified Damage to Property by TPC 152.

The legal framework on energy infrastructure has been improved through several amendments to the existent law.   However, several gaps in legislation still remain which may require a call for new legislation or additional amendments to the existing law in order to correct legal oversights.  


Private Security Contractors (PSC) & Critical Energy Infrastructure Security

The deterrence and prevention of terrorist attacks could also be advanced through professional private security contractors for critical energy infrastructure protection.  As an illustration, in 1997, BP’s OCENSA pipeline in Columbia was blown up just once.  This pipeline benefited from professional security management.  At the same time, the Occidental corporation’s Cano-Limon-Covenas pipeline in Columbia was blown up 65 times.  It did not benefit from private security management.  The fact remains that critical energy infrastructure security is not a well-known topic among private contractors in Turkey.  Indeed there is a need to improve Turkish pipeline protection capacity.


Energy Security Technologies & Critical Energy Infrastructure Security

In addition to hard-security measures, high security integrated electronic systems such as satellite monitoring, intelligent surveillance, intrusion detection, CCTV, perimeter intrusion detection, SCADA, radar systems and rapid response capabilities are becoming more and more sophisticated. Seeing them as more reliable and cost-effective solutions, energy producers and transit states are investing in them for the protection of energy infrastructure. These technologies were introduced in Turkey for the first time with the BTC pipeline, which has employed the most advanced engineering technologies available for its construction and protection in the early 2000s.


Community Relations & Critical Energy Infrastructure Security

Community-level measures not only include awareness building actions but also the provision of a skilled work-force to fill the gap in the energy sector.  It will be impossible to guarantee the full protection of the pipeline itself or its facilities by only focusing on military and hardcore aspects of pipeline protection.  The involvement of communities living along the pipeline route is a vital component of pipeline protection.  A feeling of ownership over the pipelines and a conviction of the positive impact of pipelines to their communities can encourage people to take an active role in the protection of pipelines and to serve as a supporting resource to the governments. In this regard, social aspects of these energy projects and community-level projects support the regional development of areas where pipelines pass, and should also be taken into account at the national and regional levels by related public bodies.  While improving community awareness over pipeline security by creating a sense of ownership and by making contributions to the respective communities, it is also important to make sure that a qualified workforce is generated in the country to satisfy the needs of the energy sector.



Obviously, critical energy infrastructure is an attractive sabotage target.  Therefore, it is important in mitigating threats to this infrastructure for governments, international organizations such as NATO, the UN, the EU, and the OSCE, as well as large international energy corporations, to cooperate in the development of new energy infrastructure security strategies.  It is fair to say that critical energy infrastructure security deserves much greater attention under the topic of global energy security, especially in the area of security cooperation.

Turkey should be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of its own geographic position, as well as of current and emerging security threats.  Equipping itself with innovative and collaborative energy security measures and encouraging cooperation with international actors may support Turkey`s position.  If Turkey does so, and it plays its energy security cards wisely by putting some significant solutions into practice, then one can truly expect Turkey to be a regional energy hub, with regional energy companies settling and re-functioning their investment in Turkey’s borders within a considerably short time period. 

To guarantee the prosperous future of being part of the global energy, Turkey should not miss its chance to gain a better understanding of energy security and should initiate proactive cooperation on energy security with her neighbors, the international community, as well as with leaders and representatives in the private sector.

Within Turkey, all parties related to energy are responsible for coordinating their efforts to increase the visibility of the sector and the critical issue of infrastructure security.  In this way, necessary expertise can be developed, and institutionalization of standards can emerge—both of which are key to the development of a sustainable system for energy security.  In doing this, Turkey will help itself immensely in advancing its position as an energy hub and in serving as a role model for other parts of the world on energy infrastructure security. 

(*) This article has been published in the Journal of Energy Security.

Please visit our page for Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) for further information and solutions on the subject.


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