Oil's Vital New Power

Booming Azerbaijan is the key to the West's energy freedom. It's a precarious place for such a crucial job

Anthony Suau for TIME

A child plays in Bibi Heybat, a poor district in Baku, Azerbaijan situated in a former Soviet gas factory.

In the control room of Azerbaijan's sprawling oil terminal near the capital, Baku, Bala Mirza sits peering at a fuzzy map on a computer monitor. The outline of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey looks like little more than a jumble of hills and farming towns. But for the engineer, 41, what lies underground has rocked his world: a new 1,100-mile oil pipeline, which in recent months has tied this tiny country on the edge of the Caspian Sea to the huge Western market. "There is a lot of oil and a lot of money," says Mirza, who spent 14 years earning about...

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