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The Town of the XXI Century
Series of reports on ecological situation in Central Asia

ECOLOGY OF THE CASPIAN SEA REGION - THE LAST LINE OF DEFENSE BEFORE THE BEGINNING OF THE "BIG" OIL

The national plan of actions for environmental protection of the Republic of Kazakhstan defined Atyrau region as one of the ecologically disadvantaged territories, and named environmental pollution in this region of concentrated oil development as one of the eight priority ecological problems of the country
 

The main center of oil development in Kazakhstan is concentrated in the western part of the country. More than 70% of the oil fields containing industrial oil resources are located on the territory of Atyrau and Mangistau regions. Atyrau region is characterized by the highest supply of perspective oil resources and their volume (in accordance with the estimates of Kazakhstani geologists) is more than 700 million tons. And this is without the estimates for the Caspian Sea shelf.

Kazakhstan is waiting for the "big" oil. And the ecology of the Caspian Sea region is holding the last line of defense. This is because the current situation is already considered to be close to a crisis. Atyrau region is justly considered to be among the most ecologically disadvantaged territories and environmental pollution at the oil extraction sites is considered by NPDOOS/UR RK among eight priority ecological problems of the country. When oil was drilled on the ground the ecology of the caspian Sea and surrounding territories was already sending SOS signals. And there are numerous examples of this fact.

Kazakhstani experts have identified five main problems related to the radioactive environmental pollution. The first place on the list is taken by radioactive pollution of the territory in Western Kazakhstan. At the 22 oil fields the experts located 267 sites of radioactive pollution thrown on the soil by the underground waters. The power of radium and torium radiation is 100-17000 microroentgen/hour. Total population affected is around 100 thousand.

Serious danger of oil pollution of Caspian Sea is represented by the oil fields Western and East-Central Prorva, Teren-Uzek, Tazhigaly, Kokarna, Eastern Kokarna, Kara-Arna, Morskoe, Pustynnoe, Pribrezhnoe, South-Western Tazhigaly, Votahan, Karsak, Martyshy, South-Eastern and South-Western Kamyshytovoe, Zaburune, Zhanatalap

"Kulsaryneft" had three of its oil fields - Eastern Kokarna, Tazhigaly, Teren-Uzek - flooded already in 1995. All 12 of the oil wells at Eastern Kokarna are currently under water, including seven of the conserved wells, which are not designed for continuous presence under water, which may lead to oil pollution of the water, when the wells' mouths become non air proof.

Tazhigaly oil field, which was industrially developed since 1960, was flooded several times. In 1989 after another flood the field was conserved. The absolute height of the land is minus 27 meters. Here 102 wells were drilled, out of which 28 wells have been shut down and 74 are conserved. The wells are not designed for continuous presence in the aggressive sea environment and may become sources of oil extraction into the sea.

Teren Uzek oil field with absolute land heights ranging from minus 27 to minus 21,5 meters has been industrially developed since 1956. The leftover oil supply is around 3 million tons. 438 oil wells were drilled at the field, out of which 314 are oil extracting wells, 52 have been shut down and 4 are conserved. The oil field is protected from being flooded by the Caspian Sea waters by a circular dam and by a 24 kilometer road-dam. The dam was built using the local soil, its side facing the sea was reinforced by the gravel-containing mixture. The sea water is standing at the dam's base, the surface of the field is covered with water containing numerous oil spills. The open ground contains significant amounts of black mineral oil. If the dam is destroyed it will be a significant blow to the flora and fauna of Caspian Sea because of the large amounts of oil polluted water currently contained on the territory of the oil field.

Oil extracted with the help of such methods and ways may become a catastrophe for Caspian Sea. Let us look at the approximate list of the oil fields and wells located close to the Caspian Sea shore in the zones, which can be completely or partially flooded.

The danger of the same magnitude is represented by industrial and household sewage of the city of Atyrau. The sewage system of the city is divided into the left shore system and the right shore system. 21 plants of the left shore annually throw biologically non-cleaned sewage on the evaporation fields in the amount of 20 million cubic meters, while the sewage system was designed for 6,4 million cubic meters. The mechanical sewage cleaning devices of the right shore receive sewage at the annual rate of 4,38 million cubic meters, all this without biological cleaning and with effectiveness of mechanical cleaning being not more than 60%. The sewage evaporation fields of this part of the city are under a threat of been flooded by the Caspian Sea waters.

More than 600 million cubic meters of accompanying gas are burnt annually, while oil is extracted.

Around each well 70-80% of the plants are destroyed in the radius of 500-800 meters. Only "Emba-neft" throws about 4 million cubic meters of underground waters on the evaporation fields, and the total for oil extracting territory of the Atyrau region is about 1 billion cubic meters.

Within the last 18 years the increase in the level of Caspian Sea cause a lot of damage to many of the spheres of the national economy. Because of floods industry lost significant amounts of investments, more than 30000 sq. kilometers of territory were flooded.

Using the existing observation network Kazgidromet was able to conclude that in 1996 the level of water in Caspian Sea had decreased, while the square of the water mirror had become smaller by 4 thousand square kilometers and the volume had decreased by 112 cubic kilometers. Increased water pollution by nitrogen containing substances and oil products was detected. The stage of water pollution at the shores of the Kazakhstani part of Caspian Sea was determined to be "moderately polluted".

The issue of the main factors of increase in the Caspian Sea level remains arguable. Many researchers consider that large fluctuations of the Caspian Sea level had resulted mainly from the changes in the components of the water balance.

To improve the basic methods of prognosis and shore management and development of the plan for protection of Kazakhstani lands along Caspian Sea, in the framework of the International National development Program, the government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, academy of sciences, KazNIIMOSK, Hydro meteorological center of the city of Atyrau, Atyrau regional administration, together with Aalborgh University (Denmark) and Denmark Hydro Institute, the third phase of the project "Prevention of flooding in the Atyrau region" is in the process of preparation.

Phases I and II of the project allowed to evaluate the problem, to prepare the plan of the project, to set the equipment registering the levels of Caspian Sea water, Danish hydrodynamic model of increase calculation was adapted for Northern Caspian Sea conditions. To solve problems of Caspian Sea it is necessary to coordinate actions of the states located around Caspian Sea to adopt the part of the Program, Interstate Agreement aimed at joint management of Caspian Sea and adjacent territories

UNDP, UNEP, The World Bank and agencies representing five Caspian states are developing the "Program on Caspian Sea Environment" with contributions from the development foundation PFF. This program will set limits in the sphere of management and protection of the possible support and improvement of Caspian Sea environment.

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