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Icy Attitude of NCOC

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The Caspian Sea in winterIn the light of the latest scandals connected with ignoring by the oil companies of ecological requirements (see WKT #19 dd. 18.10.1012, “Dark Waters from Inferno”) I am constantly surprised, how, at times, in a care-free manner foreign and national managers approach serious matters. Although I suspect that, in actual fact, they perfectly realize all bottlenecks in the projects, but, still they make a poker face.

Last January AkZhaik raised the issue of possible oil spills in Kashagan during winter (AkZhaik #4 dd. 26.01.12, “Risks in the spills”). To recall, Atyrau oil workers and ecologists expressed serious concerns on probability of oil spills in the North Caspian Sea during the period when the field is covered with a thick layer of ice. At that time we didn’t receive a clear answer about the actions that NCOC consortium is planning to undertake in such situation. In September during public hearings on NCOC’s plan of nature protection actions for 2013 we asked again the company representatives.
The answer was given by Agip KCO employee Mark SHEPHERD:
- Oil spill response during winter period isn’t more difficult, than in a warm season. Moreover, it has even its advantages as the pollution area under the ice layer is much less. Response time also depends on the location of the accident. On each facility there is required equipment – thus, we considerably reduce oils spill response time.
We didn’t share Agip managers’ optimism and re-sent our inquiry to NCOC with a request to provide detailed answers to our questions: Why is it easier to respond to oil spill in winter period? What will the company undertake if oil spill occurs not on ice surface, but under the ice layer? What percentage of spilled oil in this case will settle down on the sea bottom?
The reply came 1.5 months later. NCOC assured they developed a comprehensive oil spill response plan for ice conditions. The plan is based on 3 main strategies which, according to the operator, include the latest state-of- art methods.
The first method - containment and collection of oil with the use of natural breaks on ice on the polluted areas and/or if necessary – on areas with a sufficient depth of water with the use of ice breakers for breaking the ice layer and collection of oil.
The second – burning of oil, contained by the “broken pieces of ice”. This method will be used only if necessary and under the management of government authorities.
The third method -  monitoring and assessment of the spill area where oil was contained under the ice and settled to bottom, and also, tracking of oil spill behavior in the process of ice layer thawing, and its collection as soon as it starts to float and available for collecting with use of the special equipment.
According to consortium, it is participating in the “new revolutionary initiatives directed on improvement of above-mentioned methods for oil spill response in Arctic/ice conditions”.
We know the opinion of local ecologists: one shouldn’t conduct oil operations in the Caspian Sea at all! And lately Astana, at last, turned their ear to them. Let’s hope that recent ecological “pressures” will not turn out to be a next economic blackmail.
As for the above-mentioned methods, according to Makhambet KHAKIMOV, NGO Caspi Tabigaty Chairman, during winter time, especially in the North Caspian Sea, any of the above methods are neither applicable nor efficient.
I came across one interesting report of Wild Nature World Fund (WWF) “The problems connected with consequences of Responding to Oil Spills in Arctic Marine Environment.” To be more precise, the oil spill risks in the Arctic contained in the report interested us with the reference to the Caspian Sea only during winter time.
So, according to Aleksei KNIZHNIKOV, the coordinator of WWF program on ecological policy of oil and gas sector in Russia, not a single operator conducting oil development operations cannot provide 100% guarantee for lack of oil spill.
Among other difficulties of elimination of oil spills in the Arctic conditions, there are moving ices, low temperatures, winds of considerable speed and wind storms which increase the probability of accidents that may lead to oil spill. We cannot but agree, that all these could be applied to the Caspian Sea conditions.
With regards to possible consequences of oil spills, it follows from the report that in Arctic (read, and in our winter) conditions, the oil spill stays much longer, as its evaporation goes slowly. Or it can be trapped in ice or under the ice layer, thus, becoming more difficult for its bacterial decomposition. Oil that polluted the environment as the result of Exxon Valdez oil tanker accident in 1989 that ran around in the Prince William gulf in Alaska, stayed there much longer, than it was initially forecasted. In 2005 it was revealed that oil only slightly disappeared in a coastal strip along the zone of oil spill. Residual oil keeps the toxic properties and remains biologically active. And scientists predict that such near-surface oil can remain in the soil for decades.
The report contained the photo of the hole in the ground containing oil that stayed at the coast since 2001. And it was already 12 years since the time of the accident!
Residual impact of oil spills was also registered at the Cape Cod peninsula in the State of Massachusetts where recent researches published by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute showed that oil remained in a sedimentary layer of some coastal wetlands since oil spill in 1969.
The “greens” unanimously agree that today in the world there are no effective methods of cleaning oil spills in ice conditions. The last experience of oil spill elimination was in Norway. But even there using the latest modern methods, they could only collect half of spilt fuel oil.
To recall, in autumn the Russian Gazprom refused from oil production in Prirazlomnaya platform after “Greenpeace International” activists in August 2012 made an attempt to overtake it. The oil giant accepted that safety condition of the drilling rig is not proper and oil production could be dangerous. Gazprom became the last company that suspended plans on oil production in the Arctic. Earlier it was done by BP in Baffin Bay (Canada), Shell in Alaska, Cairn Energy at coast of Greenland.
As to Kazakhstan, in February the Minister of Environmental Protection Nurlan KAPPAROV stated:
- Production in Kashagan will start in 2013, but the preparedness to oil spills isn’t in place. If oil spill occurs, then the scale of the accident can be even larger than in the Gulf of Mexico.
by Laura Suleimenova
November 23 2012, 09:50

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