ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey will deploy thermal cameras and horse-back patrols to heighten security around key oil and gas pipelines as Kurdish militant attacks increase, in a bid to safeguard energy supplies in the import-dependent country, energy officials said.
Tighter security around energy infrastructure would be welcomed by Iraqi Kurdistan, whose oil exports to the world are piped through Turkey. A recent attack on the line has cost it more than $250 million by halting oil pumping.
Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) said in mid-July it was stepping up attacks over what it said were ceasefire violations by the Turkish state. Attacks have become almost daily since Ankara began air strikes on PKK camps in northern Iraq on July 24, in what Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has called a "synchronized fight against terror".
Other energy infrastructure has also become a target. The Azeri Shah Deniz pipeline and the Iranian pipeline, which carry a total of 16 billion cubic meters of gas annually, came under attack within the last 10 days.
Oil flow in the Iraq-Turkey pipeline, carrying Kurdish and Kirkuk oil to Turkey's southern port of Ceyhan, resumed on Thursday after a week-long shutdown following a PKK attack,
a Turkish energy official and a shipping agent told Reuters.
"The risks for companies who are supplying to or through Turkey has increased quite a bit in the light of recent attacks," according to one energy industry official in charge of pipeline operations involving Turkey.
With few hydrocarbon reserves of its own, Turkey purchases 98 percent of its natural gas and more than 90 percent of its crude oil from foreign producers. The imports, estimated at $61 billion worth in 2014, help to swell its current account deficit, which reached $45.84 billion the same year.
Bombing energy infrastructure therefore was an effective tactic commonly used by the PKK in the 1990s. Attacks lasted until 2013, when a ceasefire was sealed after Tayyip Erdogan, then the prime minister, opened talks with jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan to end three decades of conflict, which has killed more than 40,000 people.
"It seems PKK is going back to its old methods of damaging the energy infrastructure," a senior energy official said. "We have been seeing signals of this. These attacks hurt both our citizens and other countries using Turkey as transit hub."
The 650 kilometre-long portion of the Iraqi pipeline stretching from the Turkish border town of Silopi to the southern port of Ceyhan will be protected with new thermal cameras. They will be set up on locations along the pipeline identified as most vulnerable to attacks.
Horse-back patrols will also be dispatched to monitor the pipelines, officials said. They declined to share more details on the planned measures for security purposes.
The measures will also be designed to halt theft of oil by people tapping the pipeline, which has become increasingly common in border provinces Mardin and Sanliurfa.
But the task is challenging.
"Even the best security plan would not be able to stop attacks. We're talking about hundreds of kilometers of pipelines being patrolled 24/7 - that's not possible," Aaron Stein, non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East said.
The Iraqi pipeline carries 650,000 barrels per day of Kurdish and Kirkuk oil to Turkey's southern port of Ceyhan, the only export outlet for Iraqi Kurdistan. The PKK attacks have drawn criticism from the president of the semi-autonomous enclave, Massud Barzani, and senior officials.
"The continuous attacks and theft serve only to damage the economic viability and the security of the Kurdistan Region," a statement from the energy ministry of Kurdistan Regional Government said, calling the attacks 'senseless and irresponsible'.
Editing by Daren Butler, Larry King