For a long time Zhaik Caspian Ecology Department of the Environmental Protection Ministry, which is now Atyrau Oblast Ecology Department after re-organization, has been one of the most closed-door state agencies for mass-media and NGOs. The new head Erbol KUANOV claims all these are in the past mainly owing to the changed team in the Environmental Ministry (in the beginning of the year Minister Nurgali ASHIMOV was replaced with Nurlan KAPPAROV). We talked to E. Kuanov about the plans and problems of the department.
YOURS AND OURS
- What will be the priorities of the department?
- They will be same. The first priority is the drowned oil wells. There are some wells registered in State Reserves, and the rest is located in contractual areas of subsoil users such as Embamunaygas, Arna-Oil, etc. The figures are different – Emergency Agency gives certain figures and ecologists give other data. The last year’s itemization gave new results (According to the report of the RoK Ministry of Industry, there are 1,262 wells in drowned areas). To the date we still don’t know the exact number of killed oil and hydro geologic wells. Why is it important to us? Because we need to know the entire background of contamination before the Kashagan field development starts – otherwise, in case of sea contamination, we won’t be able to lay claims against the oil company. In their defense they will state that contamination is the result of the leakage from the Kazakhstani abandoned wells. But we are not able to resolve this on our own – we will be asking the ministry for help. Now I have legal levers of control and I will force subsoil users to compile and align their long-term well abandonment programs.
BEFORE THE GAS ATTACK
- Our second priority is emissions. Every year nearly hundred tons of contaminants are discharged to the air. What would be later, when within the city boundaries, they will have built benzol and aromatics production plants, when Kashagan oil production starts and the gas and chemical plant opens? It is prognosticated that the emissions rate will then double. Therefore we need to, at least, stabilize the situation now. It is impossible to stop the technologic process, but there are technologies that help minimize negative environmental impact. There are green economy principles adopted in our country. The Ecological Code also provides the requirement to implement environment friendly technologies.
– Have you got any levers of control for the companies that ignore your requirements?
- We just won’t provide them with emission licenses. This may lead to suspension of activities. You know what happens when huge plants stop working. Besides this, without the environmental activities plan that includes the use of green technologies a project will not receive the public approval. With no such approval we have no right to align a project.
- What is the share of green technologies implementation in the project costs given that major projects are performed with loan money?
- As an ecologist I am not interested in these issues. To us, it is important that emissions are minimal. If projects were initially unprofitable they wouldn’t be performed.
THE LANDFILL ISSUE
– What can you say about the municipal landfill which is the most relevant issue for the townspeople today?
- Doubtless, it is also our priority. I would say the issue of wastes is of much larger scale. There are two types of wastes. The most dangerous are the wastes of oil and gas industry. As of now oil and gas companies make agreements with waste management organizations. To our joy, there are many such organizations here. The other question is where the wastes are being taken to and how are they utilized. For a reason the mass-media writes about waste waters discharge and municipal wastes dumping under cover of night. We will be countering this as well. Concerning the municipal landfill I would mention that a waste management program was designed when I was heading the oblast’s department for natural resources and use of nature. Landfill remediation issue was considered within the range of the program. But it is not that easy. We should all understand that wastes have been dumped there since ‘70s. And you can’t just uncover and move it. Imagine how much pathogenic bacteria there are. If it happens that there is an anthrax or plague germs the entire city may be caught up in epidemic. We are now considering several options including filling the landfill with ground and ramming it. There is also an idea of using the gas originated inside the landfill for household purposes by transporting it over the pipes. Another question is how long will this gas be enough? The other option is to drill monitoring wells around the landfill in order to prevent contamination of subsoil waters located near the surface. But there is a risk of contaminating these water sources. The next option is to flare the landfill gas. In that case there won’t be that smoke which covers the city during landfill fires.
The project is not that easy and draws much interest. City residents should understand that it is not that possible to shortly sort out the landfill where wastes are being accumulated during the last 50 years.
By Laura SULEIMENOVA