With construction developing in what is one of the largest oil fields in Central Asia, questions must be raised regarding the necessity of building a manmade island purely for oil production.
The Kashagan field, located in the Caspian Sea off Kazakhstan’s coast, is one of the world’s largest oil finds since 1968. Kashagan is estimated to hold up to 12 billion barrels of oil with the total project costing around $46 billion.
According to Newsday, the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev believes the Kashagan field is “the great hope and future of his fledging Central Asian nation.” But the Kashagan field has yet to drill any actual oil due to the controversial environmental factors surrounding it.
The field has the potential to trigger a massive earthquake. The oil in the Caspian Sea is under enormous pressure. According to The Dubya Report, geology professor and Director of the Atyrau Institute of Oil and Gas Muftach Diarov said that abusing an area of seismic activity could result in harmful consequences.
Diarov said, “This is a volatile area in geological terms. Releasing oil at 1,000-atmosphere pressure is like releasing a genie in a bottle. Who knows what will happen? If there is another earthquake, the new pressures created in the oilfield could trigger a man-made earthquake. Oil would spill out into the sea and cause an environmental catastrophe.”
The Caspian Sea region is also rising, with an approximate increase of three meters in the next 25 years. Subsequent environmental damage would be immense. In the last decade, the sea has risen one meter, with some parts of Baku inundated already.
The harsh temperamental conditions surrounding the Caspian Sea have made oil drilling even more difficult for The North Caspian Operating System, which is the joint operating system that controls the Kashagan field. The northern section of the Caspian Sea is landlocked which makes transporting equipment problematic.
Oil drillers find difficulty with the shallow and icy waters. At some places, the Caspian Sea is only 16-feet deep, which makes it impossible for ships to travel through.
The water is also heavily contaminated with hydrogen sulfide, otherwise known as “sour gas,” formed by existing air pollution. While local environmental groups are resistant to pumping, many of Kazakhstan’s officials and executives are excited to move the project along.
According to Newsday, Alain Guenot, planning director of NCOS insists, “Everybody would like to extend the [deal] … Without production, we don’t have revenue, they don’t have revenue and they’d like to have revenue as soon as possible.”
Oil fields like the ones in Kashagan are sure to increase the economic wealth in Kazakhstan. But while the oil executives and government elites prosper at the new influx of wealth, the environment is sure to suffer.
The Kashagan fields are, in addition, built next to the Ural River, which is filled with the endangered beluga sturgeon fish, a producer of caviar. Local environmental and fisherman groups believe that the high amounts of sulfur polluted in the rivers will cause the extinction of the sturgeon.
While the Kashagan field will benefit Kazakhstan in growing short-term income, oil drilling will yield just as gradual results, but on a more damaging, long-term scale.