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Tengiz to have a sea channel, for sturgeons and seals it's a wash-out (+update)

November 26 2014, 15:28

By Laura Suleimenova

The Caspian Seal. Photo:abirvalg.netThe Caspian Seal. Photo:abirvalg.netToday, November 26, TenizService LLP is holding public hearings in Atyrau on the project impact to the environment. The project is called “Freights transportation route for the facilities northeast part of the Caspian Sea. Coastal buildings and facilities with access highway”.

One out of three

Meanwhile it became known that the previous project of this company - for construction of sea channel with berthing facilities received the positive conclusion of the state environmental expertise in spite of serious objections of the ecologists. “Ak Zhaik” has found out that the conclusion was issued not by the department of ecology of Atyrau Oblast, but by the regional department of Atyrau Oblast governor’s office - the management of natural resources.

To recall, we are talking about the construction of the sea channel that will be used for transporting assembled modules for the construction of Tengizchevroil’s 3d generation plant. The modules will be delivered to Tengiz by sea vessels from Aktau port. For this purpose it is planned to dig 55 km long and 5 meters deep navigational canal through the seabed in southeast part of the Northern Caspian Sea. Also on the coast near Prorva a mooring complex for loading/unloading of freights, and in the waterlogged coastal zone it is scheduled to construct 10-20 km long dam further connected to the public road. The project cost for the year 2013 was $600-700 million.

TenizService LLP is an affiliated structure (48,99%) of the national company KazMunaiGas. The remaining shares belong to various individuals, among whom there is the name of Timur Kulibayev. It is also symbolical

that in 2007-2010 “TenizService’ was headed by the current RoK Vice-Minister of Energy Magzum Mirzagaliyev, who is supervising Kazakhstan content issues in such large projects as FGP at Tengiz and Kashagan.

It was this company that constructed earlier the North Caspian oil spill response base (SKEBR) strongly opposed by the local ecologists, because it was built in the nature reserve area of the Northern Caspian Sea. Later Zhaksybek Kulekeev, the advisor to the director general of Kazakh Institute of Oil and Gas (KING) , indirectly admitted that the ecologists were right in the persistent opposition and who also said that due to its location the base is useless in winter time.

Coming back to the sea channel issue: originally the project was intended only for Tengiz, but later  TenizService representatives declared that the below companies engaged in the development of the onshore and offshore facilities: “Kashagan”, “KMOK”, “Satpaev”, “Zhambyl”, “Yuzhnaya”, etc. will also be the users of the channel, i.e the potential partners - TCO, NCOC and KazMunayGas group of companies.

This freight transportation route (FTR) was one out of three, proposed by TCO: the Northern (via the Ural River), Youzhny (via land from Aktau port to Tengiz) and the sea channel - the most expensive option. However, most likely, it will cost to the inhabitants of the  PreCaspian region more than to “Tengizchevroil”: because of the next impact (hit) to the catastrophically reducing sturgeons and seals. 

Rate is higher than sturgeons’ lives?

Atyrau territorial inspectorate of forestry and fauna in its time issued a negative conclusion to this project.

- We carried on a correspondence with “TenizService” for a few months.

I also wrote to them that the route of the sea channel lies across a migratory way of sturgeons and seals to their winter haul-out site. To that they answered that  navigation will not be constant, but temporary. Vessels with modules will travel once a month and for animals to pass the route they will build through pipes. 

I also wrote to them that the route of the sea channel lies across a migratory way of sturgeons and seals to their winter haul-out site. To that they answered that  navigation will not be constant, but temporary. Vessels with modules will travel once a month and for animals to pass the route they will build through pipes. We rejected this option. Then they suggested to put soil not as a continuous line, but with intervals, like islands. However it is also won't solve a problem. We have enough islands on Kashagan. Besides, during navigation these intervals will become silted again. And it would require annual dredging works.  In general the damage to the environment will be already caused during the construction stage of the channel: phytoplankton will be completely lost, sediment dwellers that form food supply for fish will be also destroyed. Similarly all living organisms on both sides of the canal under the dumped soil will suffer. I suggested “TenizService” to calculate not the one-time damage due to construction activities, but the constant impact of the channel onto the Caspian Sea. And I also asked them, why to build one more port, when we have a specialzed international sea port in Aktau? Unload the modules there and transport them to Tengiz by road. To that I was told that it is an expensive option. It appears that it is more profitable to kill sturgeons than to build a road! 

“Requirements are not met”

We also got hold of the document dated 19.03.2013 – “Proposals and comments to the project “Pre-Assessment of Impact on Environment” to the feasibility study of the of Freights transportation route in Zhyloi district of Atyrau Oblast” that was sent by the regional ecology department to TenizService LLP, Vitteveen+Bos Caspian LLP and TsDZ and GIS Terra LLP. This document, in particular, contains the following comments: “This project was reviewed by Ural-Caspian interregional basin inspection of fishery and has not been approved due to negative impact on bioresources of the sea (violation of migratory ways of valuable species of fish and seals) and refusal to export dumps of soil into deep-water parts of the sea.”

Based on Article 41 of the RoK Ecological Code, the Department of ecology also specified that the project required “to provide justification of the facility location with observance of social and economic and ecological interests of the local population, however these requirements have not been met by the project”.

However, it seems that “TenizService” haven’t rattled at that. Later one of the heads of the company bragged in the lobby that, despite the negative conclusion, the project was approved in Astana.

2nd category conclusion

But how was it possible to receive positive conclusion from the management of natural resources and environmental use regulation? The answer to this question lies in one more document that is also at our disposal.

Even a common person would know that the sea channel which is planned to be dug in the nature reserve area of the Caspian Sea for  needs of the oil companies, has to be referred to the 1st category and to the similar class of hazard. However, the chief state health officer of Atyrau Oblast Umirzak Zinullin had another opinion. In his conclusion dated 01.04.2014, having analyzed the project, he recognized that the project complies with the relevant requirements of health regulations and referred it to the 2nd category.

Question without answer

Meanwhile, according to the business plan of TenizService LLP, in the future additional modifications and expansion of the freight transportation route are possible for other purposes, for example: 

- sea base for support of the development of the Northern Caspian Sea;

- loading/unloading and storage of various freights for development of both onshore and offshore fields;

- the terminal for export of crude and by-products for potential development in the future.

Apparently, the chances to survive for sturgeons and seals in this area of the Caspian Sea are not there any more. The position of the national “KazMunayGas” company that has shares both in Tengizshevroil LLP and in TenizService LLP stays a riddle. 

Why the Kazakhstan party didn't insist on cheaper and ecologically safer Southern route- the construction of the wider road for transportation of modules from Aktau to Tengiz? All would have benefited from this project: TCO and Kazakhstan citizens. But, apparently, the public servants have a different reasoning.  

 

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