The Berezovka Triangle

January 28, 2006, Priural’e I. Zhusupkaliev

According to the environmental norms surrounding the Karachaganak field, a sanitary protection zone was demarcated with a 5 km diametre. A resolution adopted by the Healthcare Ministry then reduced it to 3 km. Experts have explained that this was connected with the introduction of modern waste control technologies and an improvement in the environmental conditions at Karachaganak. The change of the borders was agreed upon with the chief sanitary doctor. Nevertheless, this has caused a serious conflict.

Inside the zone lay the Tungush village, whose residents were offered to move to the oblast centre or another village. As a result, 151 families in May 2003 celebrated house-warming in Uralsk at the government’s expense. 28 other families preferred to move to other rural areas. Berezovka was 2 km away from Tungush. However, with a 5 km SPZ only stockyards were located within the zone. The Berezovka residents however, posed the question, “are we less important? With the support of overseas tycoons, an initiative group was created. The group is led by a music teacher from the Berezovka School, Svetlana Anosova. As of that time, a confrontation started, for which the parties involved have been unable to come to an agreement. We have reported this so that the reader understands what the confrontation was initially about. The Priural’e newspaper will not argue with any of the involved parties, as certain other independent media outlets are doing, but we will provide an objective evaluation of the situation, referring to official sources without fabricating anything. The reason behind the publication of this article was a joint session between the consultation group and the public council of the Berezovka rural district, to which we were invited.

Members of a consultation group, the Akim of the Berezovka rural district R.K. Nurmukhambetov, a Deputy from the District Maslikhat of the Berezovka election district V.I. Chigvintsev, a Deputy from the Oblast Maslikhat, M.S. Shunshaliev, KPO experts, and public representatives took part in the joint session. Members of the initiative group led by Anosova also participated. The discussion started with a discussion offered by KPO ecologists regarding the air quality monitoring system. Similar presentations were also made in 2 other rural districts near the field. As Steve Pearson, the KPO ecology manager said, the company welcomes the creation of consultation groups under public councils as part of a long-term information exchange programme, as well as the discussion of any urgent issues for the population. This initiative reflects the openness and transparency of the company, and no doubt will deepen residents’ knowledge on the various aspects of company operations.

The KPO Environmental Protection Department Coordinator Serik Kadraliev discussed air quality standards and norms, the MPC concept Kazakhstan, and activities to protect the air basin of the field. He emphasised that the MPC for pollutants are established by the chief sanitary doctor and are approved by the government.

The measurements of the air at the field and nearby villages are conducted with stationary observation posts and mobile environmental monitoring stations. At Karachaganak, 2 types of control is practiced, which allow for conducting the MPW project (maximum permissible waste). The first of these is control conducted at the immediate source. There are special devices that measure gases or other harmful substances and with what concentration they are emitted into the atmosphere. The limits and actual waste are then compared. The second type of control is the sanitary protection zone, or SPZ. On the border of the SPZ, measurements of the air are made, and if none of the controlled pollutants exceed the MPC, everything is alright.

Stationary air observation posts are also placed in all villages. Although air monitoring is actually the prerogative of state agencies, namely two separate ministries of Environmental Protection and Healthcare. Taking into account the concerns of population however, KPO suggested installing stationary observation posts in all 10 villages at its own expense. A post was also placed in Berezovka.

Based on the MPW project, an air quality monitoring programme was developed. This programme was also agreed upon with the ecology and state sanitary supervision agencies. Following the approval of the programme, KPO concluded a contract with Gidromet LTD, whose specialists conduct air measurements and laboratory analyses of the samples 4 times per day. Quarterly reports on the condition of the air are submitted to the Oblast Department of Ecology and the Oblast Sanitary Epidemiological Station, and copies are also sent to the Burlin District Department of Ecology and District Sanitary Epidemiological Station, as well as the Oblast Subsoil Protection Inspectorate. 6 different parameters are measured in Berezovka. These are hydrogen sulphide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon oxide, methane and methyl-mercaptan. HO2, SO2 and CO are also monitored. As was reported previously, during burning, hydrogen sulphide produces sulphur dioxide. According to the results of measurements, the level of methane and methyl-mercaptan concentration in Berezovka is lower than the detection level. In other words the devices are not detecting their presence. The human nose is actually the most sensitive of devices, and the fact that people report smelling gas often does not mean that the MPC is being exceeded. At the border of the SPZ, on average, the concentration of methane is at around 3 milligrams per 1 cubic metre of air, while the MPC is 50 mg. Such a stable concentration has been observed over the past 5 years. The authenticity of the research was checked by the commissions from the Oblast Sanitary Epidemiological Supervision during July, as well as by the Ministry of Environmental Protection in September of last year. The conclusion reached on the part of these 2 commissions noted that there were no violations found during the research, and all evidence indicates that the pollution of the atmosphere in Berezovka over the last 5 years has not exceeded the MPC and is not having a negative impact on the health of the people and the environment.

The ecologists analyzed the data from the above mentioned article, and came to the conclusion that their interpretation of the measurements differed from the MPC numbers indicated on the enclosed table. It seemed that the authors of the article did not ask for professional assistance and have confused terms and measurements. We will leave this matter to the overseas consultants, and have stopped at providing a description of the work as conducted by the KPO Ecology Department at the field and within the SPZ, in order to explain to our readers a clear and full picture of the company’s activity in this area. This picture would not be full however, if we did not discuss the reasons for the reduction of the SPZ.

As it was noted earlier, in January 2004, the SPZ was reduced from 5 to 3 km. In fact, near Berezovka, the SPZ zone remained where it was, since the method for determining the border determination had changed. According to the national standard requirements, a reduction of an SPZ is permitted if the field developers introduce modern technologies into production for ensuring environmental safety. The introduction of advanced technologies allows for reducing wastes into the atmosphere.

Today at Karachaganak, a waste reduction strategy is being implemented with the application of environmentally safe flares, which eliminate the production of soot and micro-particles during gas flaring at wells. The installation of additional gas isolation compressors at Unit-3 have lowered the need for regular gas flaring.

At the field, gas re-injection technology has been introduced and is operating. At Unit-2, 40% of the associated gas goes for re-injection. The remaining 60% is processed at the de-sulphurisation plant, where hydrogen sulphide and other harmful substances are extracted. During the process of de-sulphurisation, fuel gas is produced, which is used for the needs of the field and the population.

This is why statements on the part of some skeptics and resettlement activists that the reduction in the SPZ was made deliberately with the aim of leaving out Berezovka in order to avoid expenses associated with resettlement is incorrect. The reasons for this are first of all, that the reduction of the SPZ was included into the RK sanitary rules and norms. Second, with the reduction to 3 km, geographically the borders have changed little, because in 1998, when the production and infrastructure facilities were in their development stage, during approval of the initial 5 km border, the benchmark used was the field’s gas-oil contour. Later, during a correction of the border of the SPZ, in accordance with RK legislation, the benchmark became the external waste sources.

Today, the results of analyses prove that the concentrations of pollutants in the air above the field and within the SPZ are lower than the MPC. Why did we pick the title the Berezovka triangle for this article? Because this confrontation has a third force operating within it, and this is the American NGO, Crude Accountability, whose headquarters are located in Virginia, USA. The first appearance of this international NGO in Berezovka was in 2002, when activists from ISAR instructed the legally ignorant Berezovka residents regarding how to write petitions to state agencies, on how to uncover diseases and connect these to an exacerbation of environmental conditions. Novoye Pokoleniye wrote: In August 2003, another organisation known as Green Salvation actively participated in the making of a movie on the environmental problems of Berezovka. The main donor for this NGO is the Open Society Foundation Institute, more commonly known as the Soros Foundation. At that time, one additional NGO began work with rural residents ISAR assignee, Crude Accountability (Novoye Pokoleniye 25.02.2005).

The members of the initiative group have stated that the results of the independent lab research on the air samples in Berezovka made by the above mentioned NGO have confirmed the presence of 25 toxic illnesses-causing substances include some that cause cancer. The KPO Environmental Protection Department provided some comments on the results of the measurements of air samples in Berezovka as conducted by Crude Accountability.

The KPO Ecology Department Manager, Steve Pearson explained that upon KPO’s request, the Battel company (Columbus, Ohio, USA), a recognised leader in the area of industrial environmental monitoring conducted an independent research on the air quality at Karachaganak.According to him, the results of the research made by Battel using similar methods and technology differed. There is no sense in arguing who is right, however.

A Deputy of the District Maslikhat of the Berezovka rural district, V.I. Chigvintsev had suggested conducting joint research with the participation of these American companies along with Gidromet LTD and come to a solution for this problem. The leader of initiative group, Svetlana Anosova however, said that this research must not be funded by KPO. We will fund it ourselves, she said. Anosova’s careless statement makes one think that behind this initiative group, stand forces that are lobbying for their own interests. Of course we don’t know who they are, but it is probable that they are pursuing their goals of spoiling the image of KPO, to cause a confrontation between the government and the foreign investors, and to bring discord into their constructive partnership relations. On the initiative and with the funds of Crude Accountability, during the spring and summer of 2005 a survey was carried out in Berezovka with the assistance of Moscow-based sociologists, according to which, 90% of the village residents want resettlement badly. The sociologists presented their recommendations to the executive authorities and KPO regarding how to conduct the resettlement, taking into account all of the wishes of the Berezovka residents and to ensure their employment. Were the issues that were brought up were not so much recommendations as they were interference into the internal affairs of sovereign independent Kazakhstan? A consistent pattern has been revealed, an international NGO with truly altruistic goals (on the environment, transparency, human rights) only hold activities in places and at times, where and when the interests of large international capital are present. The fate of the people, or the sovereignty of the state are not taken into consideration.

As in a puppet theatre, someone is pulling the strings, and the movement is in Berezovka. Someone is playing games, and the concern for the lives of the Berezovka residents, and the concern for their health seems to be theatrical.