The Kashagan Challenge: Kazakhstan Officials Urge to “Grin and Bear” Delays

By Abdelghani Henni 14 Jul 2014

Despite continuous delays and setbacks, Kazakhstan is optimistic about the future of the USD 50 billion Kashagan Field.

Speaking during the World Petroleum Congress, Kazakhstan’s Minister of Oil and Gas Uzakbai Karabalin said that his country will have to “grin and bear” the continued delays at the field. 

“There are clusters of delays that need to be resolved,” Karabalin said.  

Icy conditions for much of the year and the need to avoid hatching season for certain bird populations further shortens the project’s operational window. Production was halted in 2013 just weeks after beginning the project because of pipeline leakage, according to a senior official. The country expects to resume production in the Caspian Sea-area field in 2016.

Karabalin said that multiple delays at the field have had a “significant impact” on the country’s economy, but that they would not bring down the country’s economy or oil industry.

Pipeline Repairs

Kashagan Oilfield production started 11 September 2013, but operations stopped 13 days later because of a gas leak in the onshore section of the gas pipeline. The field is likely to be delayed two more years while 200 km of pipeline is replaced, a further blow for the companies developing the largest oilfield outside the Middle East.

The affected pipelines transport oil and gas from Island D, the main development for the field operation, to the onshore treatment facilities at Bolashak, the onshore processing facility. Each pipeline is approximately 90 km long, with a diameter of 28 in., and is designed to be resistant to water and the 15% hydrogen sulfide (H2S) content found in the Kashagan hydrocarbons. The pipeline’s pools were supplied by Japanese companies Sumitomo and JFE, and Saipem of Italy was contracted to lay the pipes.

Icy Conditions

The Kashagan project is technically complex due to natural circumstances. Located in the northern part of the Caspian Sea, the climate has extremely cold winters, hot summers, and drastic variations in temperature. Winters are harsh, with temperatures potentially dropping to -40°C (-40°F), while summer temperatures can reach 40°C (104°F).

The northern part of the Caspian Sea is frozen between November and March with ice thickness averaging 0.6-0.7 m. The combination of ice, shallow water and sea level fluctuations creates a significant logistical challenge. 

Because of the environmental conditions, special icebreaking supply boats were needed. Most icebreakers use the weight of the ship to crack the ice, but they don’t work in the shallow waters of the Caspian. To address the situation, Arcticaborg, an icebreaking platform vessel built by Finland's Kvaerner Masa-Yards in Helsinki, Finland, was brought in to break the ice. Special tugboats were also designed to work in these waters, and arrived in the Caspian in September 2002.

Other Challenges

Other technological challenges include deep reservoirs of about 5,000 m., high reservoir pressures of about 800 bars, high H2S content between 16 and 20%, management of byproducts such as sulfur and the use of sour gas re-injection into the reservoir.

“All challenges got concentrated,” the WPC Daily Show quoted the minister as saying. “Last year we were really happy with that the wells were performing normally, but when it comes to a very small telemetric object—the pipe—it turns out to be a complicated problem. We just have to grin and bear it, and keep working hard.” 

Abdelghani Henni is the Middle East Editor for the Journal of Petroleum Technology.