By Natalya PAVLOVA

Earlier this week in Almaty, a press conference was devoted to summarising the results of the environmental inspection on the nature protection operations conducted by KPO, which was initiated by the public association; the Kazakh Society of Environmental Protection. The inspection was an important event, because earlier, such events were never carried out on the initiative of NGOs. The question is the following - did the state bodies manage the environmental protection well, and now, is the help of an NGO needed, with the support of the Senate and Majilis deputies and the Public Chamber of the Parliament? Or were there other reasons for the initiation of this inspection by a public association?

The results of the inspection sounded like a serious critique of the consortium, the company that conducted the monitoring, and the state agencies that monitored the operation of the consortium in terms of its environmental impact: “Based on the expert analysis of the project, and its standardised and other documents, a conclusion was made regarding the failure of the company’s efforts to comply with the requirements of Kazakhstan’s environmental legislation. KPO is deliberately violating Kazakhstan’s environmental legislation, and is presenting distorted information to the state authorities and public on the environmental situation, preferring excess-limit payments and penalties over genuine compliance with the established requirements. The specially authorised agencies ensuring the monitoring of the observance of the legally established requirements are not performing their functions in this area, which is making room for corruption…”

KPO also commented on the results of the inspection: “KPO is a contractor of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and as such is required to be in compliance with all of the requirements of the Kazakhstani legislature, including obligations that were assumed by the company after the signing of the Product Sharing Agreement, which includes a consideration of ecological treatment.”.

The development phase was completed several years ago at Karachaganak, and the operation stage has begun. New facilities were commissioned like the KPC, Unit-2, and the Karachaganak-Bolshoy Chagan-Atyrau export pipeline.

“The commissioning work and the testing of the technological equipment at these industrial facilities was the main reason for off-schedule emissions,” the press release read.

The company noted that at present, due to the achievement of project capacity, the volume of wastes reduced considerably. Thus, in 2006, with a production increase of more than two times as compared to 2003, pollutant wastes dropped considerably. In 2004, the waste volume was 56.6 thousand tonnes, in 2005 – 45.5 thousand tonnes, in 2006 – 17.2 thousand tonnes. In accordance with the requirements of the law on oil, KPO developed the Gas Utilisation Programme, which is a confirmation of KPO’s ability to utilise 99.6% of the total gas produced.

The reduction of wastes and an absence of excess concentrations of pollutants in the atmosphere have been confirmed under the KPO Monitoring Programme, which provides for the two-fold collection of samples on the border of the sanitary protection zone in nearby villages (being performed by KPO). This programme is approved by national regulation agencies and is conducted by a contractor organisation with a state license. In addition, KPO installed eight automatic air monitoring stations on the border of the sanitary protection zone during 2006, which operate night and day. The data collected by these stations also confirm the absence of excess concentrations of pollutants in the atmosphere.

“Environmental protection is one of KPO’s priorities. During the past few years, KPO’s total investments into the improvement of the ecological situation exceeded US $117 million.”

Although new for Kazakhstan, the confrontation between the subsoil user and the public association is quite usual for the international community. Indeed, who else but an NGO would fight for the solution of global problems, including environmental protection? Why is this situation dubious? What is the reason for the attention being paid on the part of the nature defenders toward this company? Perhaps it is because the public environmental inspection (PEI) was initiated by members of the public association; the Kazakh Society of Environmental Protection, who are also employees of LLP Kazekologiya.

According to KPO, this company was formerly KPO’s contractor during 1997-2002, and provided services in the environmental sector on 15 separate contracts. Specifically, these were the development of the maximum permissible levels and the environmental impact assessment, as well as the 40-year environmental programme. During the past few years, LLP Kazekologiya has also participated in KPO tenders. There were flaws in Kazekologiya’s earlier projects however, and the poor quality of their work continues to affect the company today.

Concerning the recent announcements by the members of the public commission on the results of the Public Environmental Inspection, KPO has reported that the company had an opportunity to become acquainted with the draft project prepared by the commission in 2006.

In December of last year, KPO proposed introducing amendments; however, these were not included into the final version of the report presented to the public. The inspection, according to KPO employees, was not carried out so smoothly. Following the arrival of the PEI members, some difficulties arose. The leader of the group, Amangeldy Skakov and the members of the Kazakh Society of Environmental Protection officially refused to present their founding documents and licenses to the KPO management, explaining their refusal by stating that their documents were submitted to the WKO Department of Natural Resources and Regulation of Nature Utilisation. According to Kazakhstan’s law on environmental inspections however, a public association must obtain state registration for conducting the public environmental inspections and have licenses for certain types of environmental activities. Conducting an environmental inspection is done by the public association according to the charters and provisions on the same, in accordance with the current legislation of Kazakhstan. KPO had to ask the WKO Department of Natural Resources and Regulation of Subsoil Utilisation to provide the required documents for the Kazakh Society of Environmental Protection, in order to be confident of their authority.

Perhaps this is why the conclusion of the inspection was so negatively coloured, while according to article 65 of the law on environmental protection, and article 29 of the law on environmental inspection, “the conclusion of the public inspection must have an informational and recommendation character.” This is proven by the fact that it was provided without signatures or seals, and was therefore unofficial in a sense. Any subsoil usage company with permits for polluting must pay taxes and penalties, if it exceeds established norms for pollution. If the company pays on time, then it is a law abiding subsoil user. The question as to whether it is better to pay billions in penalties rather than to conduct nature protection activities is not for the subsoil user to answer, but rather for those who created these conditions.

We are striving to operate in the open market. Meanwhile, the impression is that it is an attempt to facilitate a guilt complex on the part of the foreign investors – they use our resources and must pay for it, and not only for this, for many other things as well. We also try to convince the foreigners that their opponents are always right. Despite this fact, we ignore our own laws, because they are on our territory.