By Laura Suleimenova
June 30, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev saluted British Prime Minister David Cameron in Atyrau Airport and together visited the opening of the Kashagan field development facilities at the Bolashak Plant in Karabatan, 35 kilometers east to Atyrau.
30 years later
In the morning hours before arrival of the high guest, the head of state attended a Chevron Munaygas Inc. pipe fitting plant.
The plant construction began in 2007 and its first products are to see market in late July.
The plant will be set to produce 30,000 valves in a year for Kazakhstan's and near countries' communal infrastructures.
Personnel is made up of 75 Kazakhstan employees.
Mr. Nazarbayev saw over plant aisles, listened to the Governor B. Izmukhambetov's presentation on socioeconomic development of the region and met the local public.
In his speech, he emphasized that revenues from selling natural resources need to be put in production to develop economy and to evade dependency on oil and metal prices.
He also remarked how Atyrau has changed in the years of independence:
"For more than 30 years I have been visiting this region and I know what the conditions were here - the city was not organized. Now you see living conditions have dramatically changed."
Main event of the visit was the ceremony of startup at the Bolashak Plant - an onshore facility to treat oil and gas of the North Caspian Project.
A Kazakh-British round table was held in the evening hours, virtually without the head of state and Kazakh top officials, under the chairmanship of the RoK Industry and New Technologies Vice Minister Nurlan Sauranbayev and the British trade minister, with the participation of Lord Waverley, who heads an all-party group for cooperation with Kazakhstan in the British parliament.
Almost every notable figure of domestic oil industry later arrived in Karabatan. Besides NCOC, NCPOC, Agip KCO and partner companies representatives to the ceremony were invited veterans of petroleum industry, most of which contributed to Kashagan project at some time.
Atyrau soil witnessed a historical moment of launching the project under a rainfall, which noisily cascaded onto a white canvass spread over the tribune and seats and lightnings played in the sky above the refinery.
It was the likely reason for Mr Cameron to arrive at the event late, the occasion commenced at 20.00, 2 hours behind the schedule.
Interesting, there was not a symbolical push-the-button rite. Entire event lasted under the big tent. Before the solemnity, Nazarbayev and Cameron met with plant workers and conversed with Berik Uap, a young Atyrau resident who had taken part in the celebration of Kashagan field discovery in 2000. See Kashagan boy to meet president once again.
The solemn event was carried by NCOC managing director Pierre Offant, who said preparations for the launch of onshore and offshore facilities have been under way continuously since 2012:
"Commissioning and testing of units at Bolashak started with the delivery of sweet gas from the Makat gas distribution system and a flare was ignited at plant at the same time. Gradual growth of production up to the project capacity is expected in the second half 2013. At first stage, we expect 180,000 barrels of oil a day and 370,000 in the second. Such volume is common for the first stage of development only. Estimated oil deposits at Kashagan and neighboring oilfields in the North Caspian equal 35 billion barrels."
Mr Offant supplemented his speech with a video film about the project's grand scale and presented a stone-made stella in the form of dombyra, a Kazakh two-string music instrument that inspired Kashagan the Akyn [folk poet], whose name was given to the field.
The dombyra, however, had 7 strings - as much as the partners in the consortium. And a sphere in the middle symbolized international cooperation.
Nursultan Nazarbayev recalled laying the first stone under Bolashak 8 years ago and congratulated all Kazakh people over the end of the great job:
"The largest in the world field will work for the country's benefit. I am grateful to all consortium members, all engineers, technicians and workers for building innovational and up-to-date projects."
The head of state said initially he had scheduled the ceremony for June 26, but due to coming of PM Cameron the date was moved to June 30:
"...so to mark the event. This is the first visit of British Prime Minister to Kazakhstan. And for the first time ever in history we are now to sign a strategic partnership deal with the Great Britain. Thus, today we have several historical events."
Mr President noted that Bolashak's project capacity makes 450,000 barrels of oil a day, it can process 8.8mln cubic meters of gas daily.
The new plant will create over 2,500 jobs.
Mr Nazarbayev also mentioned the environmental aspect:
"Today, the Caspian Sea is pulling attention from all over the world. But we should not forget that it is a special natural zone with its unique flora and fauna."
Worth seeing than words...
Mr Cameron said he arrived in Atyrau to see everything with his own eyes:
"I am very delighted that British companies have played the key role in the North Caspian project [phase 1]. They understand the importance of complex work on projects with account of local content. This will be the start of my trips to Kazakhstan."
In his address, Mr Cameron made special praise of Kazakhstan for voluntary nuclear disarmament and stressed Britain wanted to cooperate in many spheres, also in trade and culture:
"But today everything is about Bolashak. I learnt a Kazakh proverb - Before you drink water from the well, remember the one who built it. Therefore, I am grateful to everyone involved in the project."
For these words Mr Cameron received stunning ovation.
Within the ceremony was presented the Sensabot, a remote control robot designed upon a special order in National Robotechnics Center [Pittsburg, USA] in association with Shell Global Solutions.
The robot is designated for work at islands of Kashagan project, which do not have onsite personnel.
To begin with, Sensabot will be equipped with gas and vibration sensors and 8 cameras that will allow surveillance any time of the day. This part of the project will be introduced in late 2014.
Following a brief presentation and standing dinner, the two leaders flew to Astana, where the main part of British Prime Minister's visit to Kazakhstan begins July 1.
Apart from everything, judging by conversations held with the project partners, the first oil date is still blurry.
Previous announcements were it will go in forthcoming September.
However, Managing Director Arjan Van Dijk made no firm statement that production will start on exactly that term.
He said Bolashak is ready to receive crude, but there are extra works to complete at offshore facilities.
The consortium employees themselves are inclined to believe the real date is 2014.
As to possible oil spills, Mr Van Dijk assured the two bases - in Bautino and in the Ak Zhaik wildlife sanctuary - are capable of responding to unlikely, as he said, oil spills.
On the recent statement by Zhaksybek Kulekeyev, Advisor to Kazakh Institute of Oil and Gas Institute General Director, claiming the second base is useless in winter time, Mr Van Dijk said his company has its own method of gathering spilled oil, however, he did not specifically explain it.