January 30, 2024
In a historic victory for environmentalists and the local population, all 300 oil wells operating at the Kokzhide Oil Field in Aktobe region, Kazakhstan, situated on the Kokzhide sands, a protected territory in western Kazakhstan, have been ordered to cease operation.
The Kokzhide sands sit upon a vast underground freshwater aquifer, with the capacity to provide clean drinking water to millions of Kazakhstan’s residents. However, the aquifer’s protected status did not prevent oil companies from drilling for oil on the territory of the massif, threatening the aquifer underneath it.
According to the Department of Ecology of the Aktobe region, all wells and associated equipment are to be removed by 2030. The removal process will be conducted in phases, as the Department states that removing them all at once could disturb the already fragile aquifer.
The oil wells are owned by CNPC-Aktobemunaigaz (China), KMK Munai (China), Ada Oil (South Korea), Urikhtau Operating (Kazakhstan), and Kazakhoil (Kazakhstan). According to the Department of Ecology, both the oil companies and relevant government officials were notified of the phase-out plan and removal schedule. The plan has not been disclosed to the public.
According to Sergey Solyanik, an environmental activist from Almaty, Kazakhstan, local media and environmental activists have repeatedly raised the issue of lack of access to information about the current state of Kokzhide and government monitoring results.
“Without up-to-date information, it is difficult to assess current environmental damage and measures to compensate for it,” says Solyanik. He states that nearby village residents, along with environmental activists, have submitted a request to establish a system of public oversight for the situation in Kokzhide.
The decision to shut the wells is the result of many years of work by specialists, scientists, journalists, the local population, and environmental organizations, including Crude Accountability, who protested the oil extraction at Kokzhide and expressed concerns about threats to the nationally significant source of drinking water.
In March 2023, the operators of the Kokzhide field were fined for improper operations at the field and 134 wells were ordered temporarily shut down by Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Energy.
“This decision is especially important in light of climate change and the acute shortage of drinking water in Western Kazakhstan. It is already clear that clean water is much more important for the future of the country than all oil revenues,” says Sergey Solyanik.
“The closure of the Kokzhide Field has enormous significance for Kazakhstan’s people and sets an important precedent of choosing water–and thus, life–over oil. By protecting the Kokzhide aquifer, the government of Kazakhstan has taken a critical step in addressing the impact of climate change on water resources and human health,” said Kate Watters, executive director of Crude Accountability.