We would like to express our gratitude to the following people for their help: Paul Bartlett, Francisco Vacas, Charles Walker and Gulsim Mutysheva, Agip KCO; Doug Bright and Norman Guild, UMA Engineering; Nut Iampongsai and his colleagues from ENSR.
Oil development in the Northeast Caspian Sea is challenged by a number of physical and biological environmental factors. Physical factors include complex climatic and hydrologic conditions. Biological factors consist of unique and sensitive ecosystem, and strict environmental regulations, limiting duration of operations and waste disposal options. To address these challenges oil companies have to adopt management practices aimed to minimize environmental impact, mainly concerning waste management, navigation and oil spill response preparation. Studies on sediments and benthos around a number of offshore exploration and appraisal wells showed changes in benthic communities within 50–300 m distance around some of these wells caused by sediment resuspension, petrogenic hydrocarbon run-offs and possible spills of drilling cuttings or drilling mud. These changes were limited, however, in both time and space. To avoid more adverse impact in the future it is suggested that construction and navigation activities should be limited, especially during biologically sensitive seasons, waste management practices and procedures reinforced. Special considerations should be given to rigs and platforms decommissioning.
The Northeast Caspian Sea has drawn increased attention for its potentially rich oil and gas reserves since the discovery of the huge onshore Tengiz oilfield in 1980th. Offshore explorations in the Kazakhstan sector of the Caspian Sea started in 1990's and showed potentials for discoveries of profitable reserves. These hopes were justified in 2000 with the discovery of the giant Kashagan deposit, reportedly the world largest oil field discovery for the last 30 years containing estimated 13 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil, and a number of other rich oil fields (Agip KCO).
Agip KCO (former OKIOC), a consortium of 7 international companies has been the first one developing Northeast Caspian offshore oil fields. It invested billions of dollars in exploration and appraisal activities, development of infrastructure and triggered regional economic growth. With rising oil prices and growing demand for energy resources in the World these investments promise to bring high profit to the oil companies and prosperity to the region.
However, oil companies that have started their operations on the Northeast Caspian shelf face complexities comparable with the sizes of oil fields they develop. Major operational challenges are related to properties of the oil fields and physical and biological environment of the region.
Figure 1. Drilling rig on an artificial island in winter. Source: Agip KCO.
The independence obtained by Kazakhstan, start of offshore and onshore oil developments and economic growth also gave rise to increasing public awareness and concern of the Caspian Sea environment. Government and public attention was particularly focused on the offshore oil and gas activities.