Karachaganak recent news

The Epicenter of Trouble

Karachaganak Not Only Pollutes the Air and Water, but Causes an Earthquake!

The Karachaganak Oil and Gas Condensate Field in western Kazakhstan has been the cause of many environmental and social problems since it renewed operations, with financing from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and management by Karachaganak Petroleum Operating, B.V., a consortium comprising ENI/Agip, British Gas, Chevron and LUKoil.

In 2008, the IFC’s own watchdog branch, the Office of Compliance, Advisor/Ombudsman, found the IFC out of compliance at Karachaganak for failure to properly monitor toxic atmospheric emissions (April 30, 2008 Press Release). In 2007, the United States Department of Justice found the US oil services company, Baker Hughes, guilty of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices act at Karachaganak for paying bribes to Kazakhstani government officials to obtain a contract at Karachaganak (additional information on the Baker Hughes corruption scandal). And in 2008, the Kazakhstani government confirmed that statistical information about emissions from Karachaganak must be available to the public, after the Western Kazakhstan Department of Statistics made the claim that this information was confidential (April 9, 2008 Press Release).

And now, as if out of a science fiction novel, it appears that Karachaganak is not only rampant with corruption and polluting the air and water, but also causing earthquakes.

Karachaganak is, indeed, the epicenter of trouble for Kazakhstan. It is past time for the IFC, KPO, and the Kazakhstani government to acknowledge the enormous mistakes they have made at the Karachaganak field, provide compensation to the public, and clean up the mess.

The Epicenter of Trouble
Oksana Katkova, Uralsk, Kazakhstan
May 9, 2008
Oasis: The Central Asian Internet Journal

Western Kazakhstan Oblast is becoming seismically dangerous. On Saturday, April 26, an earthquake occurred in the Terektinsk District. The epicenter was in a village, located on the shore of Lake Shalkar, known previously as Rybtsekh. As a result of the unexpected and—for local residents—unusual catastrophe, a total of 123 homes were damaged. It resulted in a fissure in the village school building. According to preliminary information, the schoolchildren will have an unexpected week long vacation.

Underground tremors measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale were recorded at 6:20 PM in the village of Rybtsekh, which is located 180 km from the administrative center of Uralsk city, resulting in the total loss of 11 homes.

The Oblast Akim, Baktykozha Izmukhambetov, came to familiarize himself with the situation on the ground. The village school, built in 1959, did not withstand the unexpected shocks. The walls were cracked and the building was considered unfit to hold classes. The 160 students began an unplanned vacation, but not for long. The adults solved the problem and now 116 children are studying in a medical assistance center. Long-time residents of the village confirm that they experienced a similar disaster twenty years ago. According to official data, the last time that Uralsk “shook” was five years ago. But seismologists at that time explained it as an echo from an earthquake that had occurred in Turkey. And there is yet another version—that the vibrations have become noticeable due to the cavities that formed in the course of the underground nuclear explosions at the “Lira” sites in the second half of the 20th Century.

If the underground tremor had happened in the dead of night, casualties would have been inescapable, say local residents. Many of them would have remained buried under the ruins of their homes. One tremor was enough to turn the homemade adobe houses to dust.

Uralsk has become seismically dangerous, and there is no doubt about this fact now. There is a direct connection between this new, frightening reality and the increasingly intense development of the oil and gas fields at Karachaganak and Chinareva. As early as 1996, the question of possible technogenic earthquakes resulting from the intensive development of oil and gas fields, including those in Western Kazakhstan Oblast, was raised by the government, as well as by the Committee for Emergency Situations. It was even raised in a special letter by the Akims of five of Kazakhstan’s oblasts.

In March 2006, the Prime Minister charged the Oblast Akims with developing regional programs for inspecting and seismically strengthening residential buildings, houses and structures in 2007-2009. Nurgali Ashimov, then Akim of Western Kazakhstan Oblast, created a working group, which should have created a draft of this program during the course of one month. However, there is apparently not yet any program. According to scientists in Russia and abroad, the intensive development of the oil and gas fields may, in the near future, result in earthquakes, catastrophic in strength, threatening to become the primary, hazard to humanity in the 21st Century. More precise reasons for the earthquake in Western Kazakhstan Oblast should be established by the specialists who have come to the oblast from the Institute for Seismology of the Republic of Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Education.

Four days after the earthquake, residents of the destroyed homes in the village of Rybtsekh were spending days and nights on the streets. And only on April 30th did the victims receive the first assistance, in the form of 15 tents. Then there was a lull, lasting until May 5th, when 30 more tents were dropped off in the village. Food aid, which is usually provided in such situations, has not been received, and it is not clear whether it will arrive. In the meantime, many of the village residents are dissatisfied with the conclusions of the Commission regarding the scale of damages to their homes.

According to the latest reports, 70 houses suffered considerable damage, approximately 50 are unfit for living, and 11 were completely destroyed. The children are left without a school, the bridge was completely destroyed. Next to the ruins of the clay-walled housing, large emergency tents seem like the more substantial dwellings. At this time, 45 tents have been supplied, and a minimum of 63 more are needed. There are a total of 123 households in Rybtsekh. There are several children in each household, including babies. The nights in the tents are cold and windy, but people are afraid to sleep in their houses.

After a week, the Oblast Akim, Baktykozha Izmukhambetov, met with Oblast business leaders. There was talk of assistance for the residents of the Terektinsk District who are victims of the earthquake.

“In connection with the need to restore the electrical commutator the financial opportunities of the Oblast are limited,” noted the Akim, “and we are compelled to appeal to you. We have gathered to consult with you as to who can help their fellow countrymen in this disaster, and how. An earthquake response commission has been established in the Oblast and a bank account has been opened.”

Many business leaders immediately responded to this appeal. Immediately promised were financial resources and building materials, the construction of houses and a school, the restoration of houses and the bridge, and the allocation of construction teams and equipment.

“We are appealing to all organizations and state institutions to transfer one day’s earnings to a fund for the victims,” said Tlekkabyl Imashev, Director of the Department of Domestic Politics of the Oblast Akimat.

The President of the Association of Entrepreneurs of Western Kazakhstan Oblast, Zinatbanu Musina, noted that only a small portion of the business leaders were in attendance at the meeting. And every member of the Association must contribute whatever possible to aid the victims. The Akim of the Terektinsk District, Aleksey Gorobtsov, thanked those gathered and made assurances that all of the resources collected will be put to good use.

Tanatkan Abakanov, Director of the Ministry of Education and Science’s Institute for Seismology, said that the Shalkar earthquake was caused by a technogenic factor: “It is possible that it was provoked by the intensive extraction of hydrocarbons at the Karachaganak Field. In 2006-2007, monitoring was conducted there, and several earthquakes were recorded. Then the station was not used, the electronics were disabled.”

Neither the Karachaganak Petroleum Operating business venture (KPO B.V.), nor any of the other oil extraction companies conducts seismological monitoring. The American company “Baker Hughes”, which conducts geological exploration and drilling, was fined 649 million tenge (5.4 million dollars) half a year ago for non-compliance with environmental norms. For all intents and purposes, this is the first case in many years in which a foreign company was held accountable, although in fact practically all extraction enterprises violate these norms.

“They extract oil in a barbaric manner,” said Pavel Kochetkov, Director of the oblast branch of the International Bureau for Human Rights. “KPO B.V. refuses to provide information on its pollution of the atmosphere. And according to this data it is possible to calculate how much oil and gas is being extracted. It turns out that they are concealing how much oil they are, in reality, extracting.”

Translated by Crude Accountability