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Hydrogen sulphide emissions at Karachaganak before mass poisoning in Western Kazakhstan

Photo courtesy of uralskweek.kz Photo courtesy of uralskweek.kz

Several emissions of hydrogen sulphide from the Karachaganak field preceded mass poisoning of children in a nearby western Kazakhstan village, Prosecutor of the Oblast Serik Karamanov said as cited by Moi Gorod.

The mass fainting of children occurred on November 28 in Berezovka village in West Kazakhstan Oblast. The villagers unanimously pointed in the direction of Karachaganak, a massive oil and gas condensate field located just a few kilometers away from Berezovka.

Karachaganak accounts for 45% of total gas production in Kazakhstan and about 16% of all liquid production. The field is managed by Karachaganak Petroleum Operating, a joint venture of British BG Group (29.25%), Italian Eni (29.25%), American Chevron (18%), Russia’s Lukoil (13.5%) and Kazakhstan’s KazMunaiGas (10%).

Another village Tungush that used to be close to Karachaganak was relocated to Uralsk, the Oblast's administrative center, back in 2003.

But this has never happened for Berezovka. The latest incident, the villagers say, is but a reflection of the atmosphere of neglect and fear that enveloped their daily lives. Half of the villagers suffer from various respiratory diseases, chronic in most cases.

An unpleasant smell had spread through the village just before the mass fainting, they said. Right after the fainting incident, however, they were assured by Steve Wright, HSEQ Controller at Karachaganak Petroleum Operating B.V., that the field had special ecological control posts to monitor the situation constantly.

He said that there was a sanitary protection zone in place in accordance with the standards and that the measurements of special ecological control posts set all around the field were “very precise”.

After the incident Vice-Akim (Vice-Governor) of Burlinsk District Azamat Safimaliyev said “air sampling has shown no anomalies.” Head of Burlinsk District Hospital Maksot Baicherkeshev concluded that the children and adults fainted simply because of overwork. And the Deputy Head of Ecology Department of Western Kazakhstan Oblast Yerlan Saparov added that ecological situation in the region was normal.

"Our inspectors visited Karachaganak Petroleum Operating B.V. on November 28. No violations of the sanitary-protection norms were found. Data from the ecological monitoring stations located in the village did not show any anomalies either," Saparov said.

But this is different from what Prosecutor Karamanov is now saying after specialists made air sampling of the region.

"We found that on the 17th, 18th, 19th and 25th November there were emissions violating the maximum allowable limits. On November 27 at 14.19 there was the first emission, the second at 18.30. According to environmentalists, hydrogen sulphide accumulates in the body, and then it begins to affect the person. According to the employees of KPO (Karachaganak Petroleum Operating), they had a failure of the compressor that re-injects the gas, and the gas intended to be flared was involuntarily released. People talked about it. All of this has been confirmed," Karamanov said on December 3.

The Prosecutor added that after the poisoning of children samples of soil and water were also taken. In addition, KazHydroMet will take aerial imagery of the sight to see whether the gases are still emitted.

Karamanov informed there were 31 people hospitalized and that almost all of them were now discharged. Four people with chronic diseases remain on in-patient treatment. On December 3 seven more people came to the clinic with similar symptoms, including six minors.

There are 400 households and 1500 people living in Berezovka.

On November 29, the villagers asked the Akim (Governor) of Western Kazakhstan Oblast Nurlan Nogayev to help them relocate to a safer, healthier place. Nogayev responded that he understood the concerns of the villages and the solution would be found to “satisfy both sides.”

After that, the villagers gathered signatures and submitted an open letter to the President of Kazakhstan, asking for a relocation of the village away from the oilfield, fearing for the lives of their children.

By Dinara Urazova 

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