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First Kazakh oil loaded from Russia pipeline
By Patrick Lannin

MOSCOW, Oct 15 (Reuters) - The first shipment of crude from a giant Kazakh oilfield was loaded on a tanker in the Russian Black Sea on Monday via a new $2.5 billion pipeline, operator the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) said.

The pipeline is the first to be completed since the fall of the Soviet Union to ship oil to Western markets from the Caspian Sea, where oil reserves are estimated to be similar to those of the North Sea.

CPC is led by U.S. oil major Chevron. It also unites the governments of Russia, Kazakhstan and Oman with oil firms LukArco, Rosneft-Shell Caspian Ventures and Kazakhstan Pipeline Ventures LLC Mobil Caspian Pipeline Company.

"I think that life has begun," Chevron vice president Richard Matzke told reporters at a news conference to greet the first shipment.

CPC said it had done a trial tanker loading at Novorossiisk oil port on October 13 after months of delay and was now ready to start working properly.

"Trial tanker loading is an extremely significant milestone of the CPC project development," CPC General Director Sergei Gnatchenko said in a statement.

He told reporters that the loading of oil from the pipeline was going normally.

"The Caspian Pipeline Consortium will ship one million tonnes of oil by the end of this year, and next next year CPC plans to ship 20 million tonnes," Gnatchenko told a briefing attended by U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans, visiting Moscow with a delegation of U.S. businessmen.

The briefing was also attended by Russian Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref and the head of LUKOIL.

The new 1,580 km (980-mile) Kazakhstan-Russia pipeline stretches from Kazakhstan's giant Tengiz oilfield. The first oil had been expected to flow in June, but customs and technical problems caused a delay.

Matzke said the question of a quality bank for the pipeline for types of oil other than Tengiz oil will be decided later.

"I would hope this year," he said.

Initial capacity of the pipeline is expected to be 28.2 million tonnes a year (around 560,000 barrels a day). Its estimated final capacity will 67 million tonnes a year.

The Caspian is the focus of diplomatic activity, with the sea itself, on which five states have borders, not yet formally demarcated. It is bordered by Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan.

Friction over territorial rights in the sea intensified this year when Iranian gunboats chased off an Azeri vessel which was exploring disputed waters.

The United States, seeking to increase its influence in the region, has also been promoting routes west which avoid Russia.

The main one to receive its backing is a pipeline costing around $3 billion from the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

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