Azerbaijan International

Winter 1997 (5.4)
Pages 94-96

First Oil
The Chirag Celebration

by Peter Ryalls

November 12, 1997-First Oil Day-will go down in history as a memorable day not only for Azerbaijan and the AIOC oil consortium which succeeded in drilling the oil but also for the nations which are looking to the Caspian region as a new market to provide diversity in world energy supplies. Many foreign dignitaries were on hand to celebrate the event, including U.S. Minister of Energy Federico Pena, First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Boris Nemtsov, President Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia, Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz of Turkey and others.

Oil in Azerbaijan Oil in Azerbaijan Oil in Azerbaijan
Left: Smearing the "first oil" on their faces, an Azeri tradition. Left: President of AIOC Terry Adams, VP of SOCAR Ilham Aliyev and Azerbaijan President Heydar Aliyev and AIOC Offshore Installation Manager Hugh Oliver.

Middle: AIOC President Terry Adams and AIOC Government Relations Specialist Tamam Bayatly present a new species of rose, "The President Aliyev Rose of Peace" in commemoration of "First Oil" Day.

Right: Pumping the "First oil" on the Chirag-1 Platform. President Aliyev with Hugh Oliver of AIOC.

First Oil Day was the culmination of three years of activities by AIOC. The previous 18 months had been spent implementing the gigantic project to deliver first oil from the Chirag-1 platform. The celebrations included four major events: the presidential visit to the Chirag platform, the inauguration of oil terminals at Sangachal, the official ceremony at the Respublica Palace and, finally, an elaborate banquet for about 500 invited guests at the Gulustan Palace.

Actually oil from the Chirag-1 platform had been flowing since Friday, November 7, 1997, which coincided with the 48th anniversary of the Oil Rocks field which is not far from Chirag and can be seen on the helicopter ride out to Chirag. Oil Rocks was the first oil well ever drilled in the sea anywhere in the world. In the 1960s and 70s, a town was built up on miles and miles of trestles out over the sea in these shallow waters. Wednesday, November 12th, was chosen by President Aliyev as the date to commemorate First Oil as it coincided with the second anniversary of the ratification of Azerbaijan's first Constitution as an independent nation.

Chirag-1 Platform
The Chirag-1 platform in the Caspian Sea is located about an hour's helicopter ride from Baku. About 40 dignitaries were on hand at the refurbished platform for the ceremonies. The President's helicopter was the last to arrive. The television cameras surged forward, and the camera shutters clicked. This was the guest everyone had been waiting for. The President was greeted by Terry Adams (President of AIOC), Natig Aliyev (President of SOCAR), Ilham Aliyev (VP of SOCAR and son of the President) and other dignitaries and company executives. Hugh Oliver, the platform's Offshore Installation Manager (OIM), led the presidential party around the platform, stopping regularly to point out special features and capabilities of the equipment. Stopping at the production well, Oliver commented that he expected the well to produce for the next 30 years, by which time he would have retired. The President, 74, smiled and said that since he did not plan to retire, he would keep an eye on it for him.

A small platform had been around the drilling apparatus. After a short speech in which the President acknowledged the great achievement in building the Chirag-1 platform, he then opened the valve and filled the glass chamber with oil. As the oil spilled out into a bucket, the President dipped his hands into the oil and beckoned Natig, Ilham and Terry to smear oil onto their faces. The President did the same, reminding everyone that this was an ancient custom in Azerbaijan which symbolized wealth and prosperity. He then invited his guests, one by one, to anoint themselves with this "good oil from Azerbaijan!"

Everyone joined in enthusiastically, including some of the most influential decision makers in the industry, even those wearing the most expensive suits. Towels were brought and everyone cleaned up, and then the group moved to the recreation room in the accommodation block where the President unveiled a plaque commemorating his visit to the platform. The President and his party went back on the top deck in preparation of the return trip back to Baku for the ceremony at the Respublica Hall. As the President's helicopter was lifting off, my thoughts drifted back to my first visit to Baku in 1993. It had been winter. The city had seemed so dark and quiet those days. Today, Baku has vigor and purpose again. While the Chirag-1 project is not responsible for all the changes we see, it clearly has been the catalyst for change, giving people confidence to start new businesses and invest in the future. I'm proud to have been part of this amazing project. Looking back on the event, November 12 was really President Aliyev's Day. He was the one who had had the vision to see the benefit that oil developments would bring to Azerbaijan. Chirag-1 is the embodiment of that vision. The day passed quickly, but it will forever stay in my memory. To all who will be involved with the Chirag-1 operation in the years to come, I hope it has a long, safe and productive future.

Sangachal Terminal
At the new oil terminals at Sangachal, which is about half an hour's distance west of Baku, the invited guests included foreign diplomats and senior executives associated with the AIOC project. Speaker of the Parliament Murtuz Alasgarov and Deputy Prime Minister Abid Sharifov participated in the event.

Guests were taken on a tour around the facility. Only 15 months earlier the location had been a green field. Now there was a $70 million facility which can process, store and export 5 million tons of crude oil per year. Nearly 2 million man hours had gone into building the site which had been accomplished so quickly, because more than 800 people had been working on site, 90 percent of whom were Azerbaijanis. All of the work, fortunately, had been accomplished without any serious accidents. AIOC had made the strategic decision not to appoint a single, overall, contractor for the construction of the terminal but to encourage smaller contractors to get involved with fabrication, construction and commissioning of specific components on this large site. Two pipelines lead away from Sangachal to the Black Sea. One heads north 226 km to the Russian border and connects with pipelines through Russia to the Novorossysk port. The other pipeline, which is scheduled for completion by the end of 1998, heads west 920 km to the port at Supsa, Georgia.

Respublica Palace
The main celebration of First Oil Day took place at 3 pm when government delegations from 11 countries and senior executives of 150 foreign companies and international organizations joined local officials at the Respublica Palace. The event which included nearly 20 speeches lasted about five hours.

President Aliyev began by giving an overview of Azerbaijan's accomplishments during the past few years as well as the history of the oil industry. He observed that in the 21st century Azerbaijan's "economy would continue to grow because of the achievements that we are making in the oil sector today." President Aliyev pointed out that Early Oil was a great moment in the history of the country. He emphasized that "AIOC is a pioneer project, which will open the way for even more offshore developments."

Terry Adams, President of AIOC, delivered the final speech. Adams noted that the Caspian weather had been exceptionally hostile and unkind to the operational efficiency the past three months and how pleased he was to celebrate the event of the First Oil. "Nevertheless," he said, "despite all the challenges, AIOC, in partnership with SOCAR, has delivered on all the promises that we made to Azerbaijan in 1994. It is three years since AIOC was formed. Since then, we have been very much a part of the many historic changes that have emerged for Azerbaijan. We, together with SOCAR, have been a catalyst for change. We have been the cornerstone on which Azerbaijan's new oil strategy has been successfully built.

Today, we celebrate the culmination of the first part of this great vision that led to the signing of the 'Contract of the Century' by the President of the Azerbaijan Republic on September 20, 1994." To commemorate the event, Adams announced that he had a special symbolic gift for the President. It was a rose which had been selected from a species specially bred from an original rose variety dedicated to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain. "This rose, Mr. President, from this day forth, will be known as "The President Heydar Aliyev Rose of Peace," said Adams as he presented the President with an official botanical painting. Two hundred rose bushes will be delivered to Baku for planting at locations of the President's choosing. In addition, rose bushes will be presented to all AIOC shareholder companies, so that, in Adams' words, "the President Heydar Aliyev Rose of Peace can also flourish in national gardens in each of the countries represented by AIOC today."

The President Heydar Aliyev Rose (Cocosimber) was bred by James Cocker & Sons of Aberdeen, Suppliers of Roses to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. It is a hybrid tea rose of classic form with fragrant, vibrant salmon-red blooms of long-lasting petals. The plant has an abundance of dark green, glossy foliage, and the young leaves have reddish coloring. It grows to an approximate height of 2.5 ft (78 cm). Parentage is "Silver Jubilee" and "Remember Me."

Peter Ryalls is the AIOC Vice-President of Operations.

From Azerbaijan International (5.4) Winter 1997
© Azerbaijan International 1997. All Rights Reserved.

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