PIPELINEISTAN / PKK pipeline attacks sparks concern over Turkey’s energy security

In an attempt to target Turkey’s strategic energy sector, the PKK has carried out six attacks on Turkey’s oil and gas pipelines this year, prompting concern over energy security and rising violence in the southeast.

By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye — 03/08/12 – In late July, the PKK claimed responsibility for an attack on the major Kirkuk-Ceyhan line, which carries approximately 300,000 barrels of oil per day from Iraq. That followed similar attacks on the Iran-Turkey gas line in June, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan in May, and three attacks on the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline between February and April. Ankara said that attackers intend to target Turkish energy interests to create a new regional crisis.

“The terrorists must understand that no excuse or reason can justify attacking the energy pipelines. This is not a game and our security forces will take every single measure to stop them immediately,” Mahmut Mucahit Findikli, parliament’s Energy Committee chairman, told SES Türkiye.

But some PKK analysts, such as Gunes Murat Tezcur, an associate professor at Loyola University in Chicago, argue the damage caused by hit-and-run attacks is limited.

“Unless the PKK controls the territory where the pipelines are located, which is not possible, such attacks would not necessarily pose a very strong threat to Turkey’s energy security,” he told SES Türkiye. July’s attack came as Ankara’s relationship with the government in Baghdad is in decline and a budding energy relationship is developing between Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq. Turkey and the KRG are discussing building a pipeline that bypasses the Iraqi authorities, but Tezcur says this is “very unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future given the risks and complexity of the issue.”

Noting that the PKK has bases in northern Iraq, Hasan Selim Ozertem, a terrorism and energy analyst at the International Strategic Research Organization in Ankara, said authorities in Iraq also need to work with Turkey to eliminate the PKK and create a safer passage of Iraqi oil to Turkey.

“The situation in Syria should be followed carefully,” he said. “[Syrian President Bashar] al- Assad supports the PKK against Turkey and the PKK started to gain bases in the Syrian border of Turkey.”

“All in all, security can be provided for pipelines by a mixture of diplomatic efforts, intelligence sharing and also the measures taken by Turkey and its neighbors,” he said.

Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, said the pipeline security issue is an extension of Turkey’s overall security challenges related to the PKK and the Kurdish question.”The clear lesson that can be drawn from [the pipeline attacks] is that as long as Turkey has not been able to address its own Kurdish issue, the dispute has the potential to degenerate into a multi-dimensional security challenge, especially in the view of the latest developments in Syria,” he told SES Türkiye.

“This should give a sense of urgency to Turkish policymakers to tackle the Kurdish issue more constructively, overcoming their populist proclivities,” he said.