Fatal breath
Uralsk Weekly
March 14, 2011

On the night of March 6th, a man died due to hydrogen sulfide poisoning at the Karachaganak Field. Another KPO B.V. worker is in the hospital in grave condition.

The official version

A tragedy occurred on March 6th at 11:53 P.M. at the Karachaganak Processing Complex. As reported in a letter from Graham Scotton, Deputy General Director of KPO B.V., the incident occurred during the purging of a tank that was off-line and not linked to live processing operations. According to the official version, two operators from the auxiliary crew were given the task of purging the tank in a closed hangar.

During the time that industrial water was leaking from the tank, the hydrant (hose) became disconnected, and there was an outflow of accumulated hydrogen sulfide from the tank. According to Graham Scotton, the alarm system worked, signaling the emergency crew. Twenty-four year old operator Serik Ilyasov was found dead on the scene; the second operator, twenty-three year old Ernar Bulatov was transported to the hospital in the city of Aksai.

This official version differs a bit from what we heard from KPO B.V. employees on Wednesday at the funeral for Serik Ilyasov. He was buried in his native village of Podstepnoe in Terektinsky Raion. According to these employees, the accident was discovered only by chance and only because security personnel who were making rounds of the Karachaganak Processing Complex came across Ernar, who was lying unconscious at the hangar’s entrance.

According to a shift technician, Zhanybek (he asked that his last name not be given), the gas leak occurred because of the hydrant’s broken fastening. “It is a metal fastening, which is latched. When the rescuers came into the hangar after the accident, they found splinters from the fastening. These fragments have been taken away for inspection. They will establish the reason for the breaking,” said Zhanybek.

He further stated that on that very same night, representatives of the police, the Department of Emergency Situations and the KNB arrived on the scene. Together with specialists on the fastening device, the investigation team took everything that was on Serik Ilyasov when he died and sent it off for examination. “Individual protection gear, the gas indicator, even his clothes—it was all taken immediately. For me personally, it is not clear why Serik didn’t escape from there. According to instructions, he should have put on his respiratory device immediately and run like mad from the hangar, and not try to eliminate the gas leak,” Zhanybek said.

However, Nurzhan Ilyasov, uncle of the deceased, believes that his nephew most likely died immediately. “Such a concentration of hydrogen sulfide is very dangerous. All it takes is one inhale to halt breathing. As far as I know, Serik was standing right next to the hydrant at that moment, while Ernar was closer to the exit of the hangar. When the hydrant burst, Serik most likely inhaled and died before he even had a chance to exhale. Ernar immediately ran towards the outside and, even so, took in so much gas that they could barely give him CPR,” said Ilyasov.

Questions following the tragedy

At the same time, colleagues of the victims noted that some violations were committed at the time of the tragedy. “For example, why did the ambulance arrive on the scene only 40 minutes after the report of the accident was received? According to the rules, it should have been on the scene immediately,” said Zhanbulat (he asked that his last name not be given). He continued, “The fastenings on the hydrants had only one certificate of quality for the whole group. In other words, each fastening was not checked separately. And if a fastening broke off because of a defect from the factory, why was it used on such a dangerous object? And if there wasn’t a defect, why weren’t safety measures undertaken for all of the fastenings?”

A special committee, including relatives of the lost operator, has now been formed to determine all of the circumstances of the tragedy. This was the first of such technological accidents, resulting in a fatal outcome, during KPO B.V.’s history of operations at Karachaganak.

According to relatives, Serik Ilyasov began working at KPO B.V. in 2008. He married in 2009. His wife, Nadezhda is expecting a baby. KPO B.V. provided the family of the victim with material support in the organization of the funeral. But no one from the consortium’s management attended the funeral. The surviving worker, Ernar Bulatov was transferred to the general therapy ward of the hospital.

Translated by Crude Accountability