Community and Activists Succeed in Holding the South Korean Oil Company Accountable for Polluting Freshwater Deposits in Kazakhstan

Environmental defenders and community activists successfully obtained a government inspection and were able to press administrative charges against the South Korean oil company Ada Oil, which operates in the Kokzhide protected territory near the village of Bashenkol in western Kazakhstan.

As a result of an inspection initiated by activists and the community, the Department of Ecology of the Aktobe region found Ada Oil, a subsidiary of the Korean National Oil Company (KNOC), guilty of environmental violations and pollution. The company was fined 65 million tenge (approximately $153,000) and ordered to clean up the pollution.

The pollution clean-up order applied to sites near 22 wells. According to the Department of Ecology, the company complied with the order. The department thanked the public for active participation in environmental protection.1

According to environmental defenders, the activities of Ada Oil negatively impacted the unique underground freshwater deposit, Kokzhide. With reserves large enough to provide drinking water to the population of western Kazakhstan, Kokzhide is a specially protected natural territory of national significance.

However, its protected status did not prevent oil companies from operating on the territory of the massif with the permission of the country’s authorities. Seven oil companies have production wells at Kokzhide, including the joint Kazakhstan-China venture CNPC-Aktobemunaigaz, KMK Munai, and South Korean Ada Oil. These three companies have over 100 wells on the territory. Ada Oil has been operating at Kokzhide since 2005 and accounts for approximately 40% of the production wells located in the reserve.

The local community and experts have repeatedly raised concerns about the pollution of this unique water source. Members of Kazakhstan’s parliament have also sent numerous inquiries to the national government.

In the summer of 2020, activists and residents of Bashenkol sent a complaint to KNOC for seeking remedies for the violations of their rights in relation to Ada Oil’s operations. The residents of Bashenkol made it clear that their right to water, right to gain a livelihood from work and right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment were infringed due to Ada Oil’s operations. As a state-owned enterprise, KNOC is obliged to establish the human rights management system, and the complaint was reviewed by the committee of the human rights management. However, KNOC dismissed the case claiming that Ada Oil’s operation did not cause the degradation of the groundwater and the company was complying with the relevant regulations.

In the summer of 2021, Crude Accountability and journalists from the YouTube channel Just Journalism traveled to Kokzhide and Bashenkol to meet with regional residents, who confirmed that water pollution had worsened and that Ada Oil continued to ignore their complaints.

Ada Oil management refused to meet with Crude Accountability and the journalists.

Just Journalism released a special video report, “OIL or WATER –What Will We Drink in Ten Years?” which was well-received on social networks.

“Holding Ada Oil accountable sends a clear signal to all other oil companies operating at Kokzhide. The population and authorities will no longer turn a blind eye to their destructive activities, which lead to the pollution of drinking water and threaten the well-being of local residents. It is time for companies to move from words to action to reduce their negative environmental impacts and respect the rights of the local population,” said Sergey Solyanik, Crude Accountability consultant.

“By claiming that there was no pollution and dismissing the complaint, KNOC’s decision served as corporate impunity to continue the business as usual. This is a typical case to show the ineffectiveness of the human rights management systems in state-owned enterprises. Instead of waiting for another complaint, KNOC should immediately revisit the complaint and provide the remedies to the local residents. Furthermore, the Korean government should also take measures to monitor the state-owned enterprises on the effectiveness of the human rights management system,” said Shin Young Chung, a member of Korea Transnational Corporations Watch (KTNC Watch), the network of Korean NGOs monitoring Korean companies’ human rights violations and environmental destructions.

Climate change and growing pressure on freshwater resources are creating increasing problems with drinking water in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan, just like other Central Asian countries, has historically had a shortage of water, and the situation is getting dire as a result of intensive oil and gas extraction.

Contacts:

Crude Accountability: Elena Sorokina, elena@nullcrudeaccountability.org,

Korea Transnational Corporations Watch: Shin Young Chung, ktncwatch@nullgmail.com, +82-2-3478-0529

1Letters from the Department of Ecology of the Aktobe region dated 02.11.2021 and 30.11.2021