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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Caspian Pipeline Brings Family Back Together

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Cheryl Wiewiorowski had a goal: She needed to get her family settled in one geographic location.

By getting hired on as project design manager for the Caspian pipeline in August 1997, Wiewiorowski thought that the tense times — when her three school-age children were in Texas while she was shuttling between New York and Venezuela and her husband worked in Moscow — were behind her.

Little did she suspect, however, that she was coming on board the Caspian Pipeline Consortium when a storm of controversy surrounding the consortium and the pipeline was reaching its peak.

When Wiewiorowski looks back on those times, she remembers the tumult, the uncertainty, the tenseness of being embroiled in a geopolitical and economic controversy that somehow found its way to her office. But she never once thought about packing it in.

"I don't quit easily," she said.

Mind you, she had just moved her family thousands of kilometers from Plano, Texas, to Moscow.

CPC was set up in 1992 by Russia, Kazakhstan and Oman to finance construction of a $2.5 billion pipeline that now snakes 1,500 kilometers from the Tengiz oil fields in western Kazakhstan to a Russian Black Sea port close to Novorossiisk.

Since then, the project has been put off, revived in 1994 and delayed again in 1997 amid disagreements between the consortium's shareholders and changeovers in management.

Now, Russia is the biggest shareholder with a 24 percent stake. Kazakhstan comes in second place with 19 percent, and then follows Chevron with 15 percent and LUKarco with 12.5 percent, among others.

Wiewiorowski came to the CPC through ARCO, a U.S. petroleum major that owned a stake in LUKoil. British Petroleum took over ARCO last year.

Despite the fact that she is traveling about half the time, she is "crazy" about the project that she helped bring from paper to reality.

And what a project it is. The Caspian Basin — as well as the oil interests that have historically surrounded it — is an exercise in superlatives. It is the center of a power struggle between nations. It is Wiewiorowski's biggest project to date.

"And she knows how to drive it," said Martin Wiewiorowski, her husband. "That's how she runs the shop at home."

And he is one to know. Not only has he been married to Cheryl for 20 years, they both worked at ARCO before Martin retired to become general director operations in the Commonwealth of Independent States for DeGolyer and MacNaughton, a petroleum engineering consulting company, making him an oilman in his own right.

Engineering has fascinated Cheryl Wiewiorowski ever since a next-door neighbor went off to college to become an engineer.

"It's knowing that there are a group of people sitting in some town doing calculations and planning, and then they come out to see it — whatever it is — after it's been built," she said. "Something comes into being purely from a piece of paper."

She stands in awe of the technology with which she works: the hydraulic analysis, pump station configurations, data transmission systems that can monitor the entire pipeline from the Black Sea terminal.

There are many women engineers here, as in the rest of Russia, she says, but few are in management.

She sums up the challenges in her line of work this way: "This is construction. And in construction, there are a lot of strong personalities."

Dating back to her college days, Cheryl is one of those strong personalities, said Steve Tomberlin, a fellow Louisiana State University graduate who has stayed in touch with the Wiewiorowskis.

"I saw that back then," said Tomberlin. "And she's developed it in her career."

For the next six months, Cheryl Wiewiorowski still will be preoccupied with the pipeline, in all its 1-meter-diameter glory. The first oil is due to be loaded onto Black Sea tankers June 30, and everything possible is being done at CPC to keep the project on schedule.

Being an engineer, Martin Wiewiorowski was trained to break down machines, flowcharts and processes into parts. He is hesitant to do the same with his wife.

He just says: "Cheryl's like a circle. She's just Cheryl. She doesn't have any edges to her."