By Zulfiya Bainekeyeva
June 6-7, North Caspian Operating Company B.V. (NCOC) in association with Kazakhstan’s ministry of emergency situations conducted a large scale emergency drill at the Caspian Sea.
The target of Kashagan-2013, a tag given to the exercises, was laid down as follows: “to check preparedness of the consortium for response to accidental oil spills ahead of first oil and to test cooperation with the Akimat, emergency ministry and local emergency agencies during accidental oil spills.”
A conditional accident was modeled at the man-made D island – a pipeline ruptured resulting in a discharge of associated gas, its ignition and a spill of 450 tons of crude into the sea.
The activities took two stages, the first envisaged test of action plan to respond 1 and 2 category oil spills at a regional level using local forces – the resources of Atyrau and Mangystau Oblasts, and the second included liquidation of a 3 category spill – the most difficult one – with the help of international special-purpose companies.
Vice Minister of Emergency Zhanbolat Smailov visited Kashagan accompanied by Deputy Governor Salimzhan Nakpayev.
Journalists could watch the drill online in the Agip office in Atyrau.
The notional oil slick moved to the direction of coastal zone. By NCOC’s response plan, once alarm played it was decided to remove the gas leak first, evacuate personnel by boats and helicopters and notify NCOC office in Astana as a next step.
Following this, special services proceeded to direct gathering and utilization of spilled oil.
Five small clean-up vessels - the company has 12 units in total, put off Atyrau river harbor to spread oil-spill booms.
Out of various types existing, the company keeps on stand-by 400-meter booms designated for gathering spills on water surface and 150-meter fireproof ones that allow burning crude inside the loop, in the middle of sea.
When discussing the latter, a lively debate developed in the conference room – Is such burning permitted by Kazakh laws?
What consequences may arise from this way of utilization? Will oil decomposition products affect flora, fauna and the environment?
Mark Shepherd, oil spill response coordinator, who was with journalists in the room commenting the process, turned out not to have such an explanation.
By the traditional practice of major companies, every specialist is responsible for limited bit of job, so Mr Shepherd presumed that sensible answers could be given by environmental specialists of the company.
An employee of a Kazakh oil spill response company which Akimat had invited to the drill too, said it was an advanced technology that has not received green light from Kazakhstan authorities yet.
Doubtful that a company of such scale would buy equipment having no license to use it.
Strange is the tactics our government adheres to - being slow to issue the permit.
Currently, there are 2,000 meters of barriers and 10,000 meters of oil absorbing booms available at offshore facilities of Kashagan.
Following the scenario, on June 7, actions moved to the third phase of the accident response.
On the day, NCOC's international contractor arrived to the mitigation operations - OSRL - Oil Spill Response Limited - a British transnational company backed by a distinguished track record of attending more than 350 spill incidents in the past 25 years.
Right from Southhampton on own plane, they brought some equipment to save and help rehab wild animals, as well as for search and rescue operations, barrier booms and shelters, etc.
How long did it take to bring the equipment here?
"As you have seen, from the moment of alarm the process took 14 hours," said David Salt, an OSRL group director.
Did you get these items through customs clearance given the accident was fictional? What about customs if it was a real case?
"This is a question to address to our authorities," a national employee of NCOC replied instead of Mr Salt, adding that the principle of 'green corridor' is normally applied in such circumstances.
What is your evaluation to the exercises?
"It was properly organized and everything met global standards," Mr Salt said assuringly.
Do you think the project is ready for the first oil?
Judging by the high assessment given by Vice Minister Smailov in his closing remarks, this final rehearsal performed with clock-work precision will be a sufficient cause to launch production, awaited tremblingly in Atyrau and with impatience in Astana.