June 22, 2012

lecroy

Miss Jessica’s Oil Pipeline:
Jessica LeCroy (’80) shares an episode from her diplomatic career

On April 23, BU Law was fortunate to host alumna Jessica LeCroy (’80), a former U.S. diplomat who is currently a senior business and strategic policy advisor in the Toronto office of the international law firm Bennett Jones LLP. LeCroy spent much of the day in individual advising sessions with students at the Career Development Office. She also visited Professor Virginia Greiman’s International Development and Project Finance class, where she spoke to students about her experiences in the Foreign Service and the value of legal training in alternative careers outside the practice of law.

LeCroy joined the Foreign Service three years after graduating from BU Law, following a stint as a corporate lawyer in Dallas, Texas. Early in her 25-year diplomatic career, she said, she was typecast as someone who could thrive in conflict zones, and this resulted in postings to some of the world’s trouble spots (Nicaragua, Georgia, Bosnia, Iraq). Later she served as National Security Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury, U.S. Consul General in Toronto, and Deputy Director of Policy in the Office of the Ambassador at Large for Counterterrorism, among other positions. LeCroy spoke candidly about the challenges of working as a diplomat, especially in assessing for students what had gone wrong in Iraq. But she also told one story about a chapter of her career when, against long odds, initiative and hard work had paid off. We share that story here.


In 1992, Jessica LeCroy was assigned to the newly independent Republic of Georgia to help open the first U.S. embassy in Tbilisi, the capital. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, civil war raged in Georgia, including fierce ethnic conflicts involving separatists in the regions of South Ossetia, Adjara and Abkhazia.

LeCroy had been in the country for only a short while when she found herself talking to the Turkish ambassador to Georgia at a reception. As they chatted, the ambassador spoke about his vision and career-long efforts for a new oil pipeline running west from the rich oil fields under the Caspian Sea to Ceyhan, a port on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, where the Turks had a large refinery. LeCroy listened with interest and asked a number of questions. The next day, the ambassador called her and asked, “Are you really interested in this?” He invited LeCroy to visit his office, and when she arrived she found an enormous map of the region already spread out on the floor. Together, she and the ambassador and his staff walked around on the map as he showed her various possible routes for the pipeline. These proposed routes began on the coast of the Caspian Sea and at the oil terminals in Baku, Azerbaijan, and then moved west through either Georgia or Armenia before turning southwest into Turkey. The ambassador also pointed out alternate routes northward through Russia, which was the only direction in which Caspian oil had flowed during the Soviet era. LeCroy and the ambassador discussed the benefits—local, regional and geostrategic—that would derive from a pipeline project: breaking the Russian stranglehold by diversifying oil supplies to new markets, including Israel; enhancing economic growth, independence and stability of the countries in the region with jobs, infrastructure and oil transit fees; and reducing environmental risks associated with congested oil tanker traffic through the Bosphorus.

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Knowing that the proposed pipeline had the potential to be a global game-changer, LeCroy decided to send a detailed report to the State Department in Washington. She went to her boss at the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi and requested permission to work on the pipeline issue. Permission was denied. LeCroy’s boss wanted her to focus on the civil war in Abkhazia, a conflict that LeCroy had come to believe was “frozen,” with little chance of resolution. He also questioned the feasibility of a pipeline project in a country embroiled in three civil wars, with no functioning banking system and limited infrastructure. But after some wrangling, he agreed to allow LeCroy to pursue the pipeline issue on her own time, although he assured her that, while working in Georgia, in an understaffed embassy and an unstable living environment (little electricity, chronic water shortages, severe safety concerns), she would have no time of her own.

For a couple of months, LeCroy plugged quietly away at the pipeline issue during odd moments, gathering more information and eventually developing a 15-page memo. But she was reluctant to send the memo, fearing that once it arrived in Washington, it would disappear into “a bureaucratic black hole.” What she needed, she realized, was a precipitating event that would create circumstances where a proposal like this would draw interest—some kind of geopolitical event that would create headlines. “The Russians doing something—that’s what I thought would happen,” she recalled. “The Russians would do something to go after energy resources in the former Soviet republics; then it would be like a race to the moon, and this pipeline idea would certainly garner the attention it deserved.”

So she waited. Months went by, and then one day a Georgian casually mentioned an upcoming conference in London on Caspian oil, and that the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy, Bill White, would be there. This was not the type of geopolitical event LeCroy had been waiting for, but she saw her chance. She sent her memo by cable to Washington and also to the American embassy in London, noting that it should be passed to White while he was at the conference. Two days went by and she heard nothing. Then, on the third day, the embassy in Tbilisi received an urgent phone call from the London embassy saying that LeCroy’s memo had caused “quite a stir” and that Bill White would be changing his travel plans to come directly to Georgia from London.

As things turned out, it was weeks, not days, before White arrived in Georgia, but when he came he brought with him a large delegation, including representatives of the major oil companies and energy policy experts from the U.S. government, to meet with Georgian leaders. The delegation’s arrival heralded a new level of U.S. involvement in Caspian oil development. In 1993, the first documentation was signed for the BTC (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan) pipeline, which would carry oil from Baku, Azerbaijan, to Ceyhan, Turkey by way of Georgia. That same year, serious preparations began for the construction of a precursor pipeline—the Western “early oil” pipeline—which would transport Caspian oil through Georgia to shipping terminals on the Black Sea.

LeCroy recalled working feverishly in those early years with dozens of international lawyers and government and oil consortium officials, solving problems and addressing concerns related to the pipeline plans. At one point the head of the Georgian Green Party (who would later become prime minister of Georgia, now deceased) protested a proposal to take the pipeline through a sensitive nature preserve. LeCroy successfully worked with him to have a re-routed line included in the original draft plan before it could become a controversial issue.

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Sections of the BTC pipeline laid out for assembly in Georgia. The completed pipeline covers 1,100 miles.
Image source: Azerbaijan (BTC) Limited

LeCroy served as head of the Tbilisi embassy’s political and economic sections from 1993 to 1996. She left the country before the two Western pipelines were completed (the “early oil” pipeline in 1998, and the BTC pipeline in 2005), but she has monitored their progress and impact over the years with a sense of satisfaction. In Georgia, the pipelines have helped to bring stability and prosperity. “There was a catalyst for economic activity,” LeCroy explained. “They had equity, something to live for, and they did not want to fight…Meanwhile, Abkhazia is still a frozen ethnic conflict.”

Today, Georgia continues to face considerable problems, even after the 2003 Rose Revolution forced out the corrupt government of former president Eduard Shevardnadze and led to democratic reforms. Nonetheless, the World Bank listed Georgia as a top reformer as recently as 2008, and Transparency International has identified Georgia as one of the least corrupt countries in the region. Georgia is currently in free trade discussions with both the U.S. and the EU.

LeCroy’s early contribution in mobilizing U.S. involvement in the pipeline project is not widely known, although it is preserved in Foreign Service records. Still, there are those in Georgia who remember her determination in pursuing the issue. She recalled as a sweet memory overhearing the pipeline plan referred to by the Georgian phrase “kalbaton jesikas navtobsadeni,” which translates as “Miss Jessica’s oil pipeline.”

For more information about the BTC pipeline:

Reported by Ben Carlisle

 

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