January 29, 2005


Kazakhstanskaya Pravda

By Ludmila Korina


One could say that the situation surrounding the village with the lyrical name of Berezovka is somewhat dramatic. Nevertheless, a recent summary meeting between the regional and village Akims with local residents was rather calm. The problem that could be referred to as the most important was not the main focus, but instead was discussed as if it was a side issue. This proves once again that common sense always prevails. But once again let us discuss each of the issues one by one.


<typohead type="1">Why Are We Less Important?</typohead>


According to ecological norms, some time ago, a so-called sanitary-protection zone was established surrounding the Karachaganak oil and gas condensate deposit with a radius of 5 kilometers. It was then reduced to 3 km, and experts explained that this was connected with the introduction of modern technologies for the control of discharges, and accordingly, an improvement in the ecology. The modification of the borders was coordinated with the national chief sanitary specialist. Nevertheless, it served as an impetus for a serious conflict with the residents of Berezovka.


The Tungush village remained inside the most unfavorable zone, the residents of which were offered to either relocate to the Oblast centre, or to move to another village. As a result, in May 2003, 151 families held a house warming ceremony in Uralsk. Another 28 families preferred to be settled in rural areas. These families were paid sound compensation at the expense of Karachaganak Petroleum Operating (KPO), which is operating at the deposit. Everything else began since that moment.


The distance between Berezovka and Tungush is two kilometers. However, when the SPZ was 5 km around, only the village outskirts were actually within the limits of this protection radius. Berezovka residents have nevertheless asked themselves the question, why are we less important? Government authorities at the regional, Oblast and national level have begun receiving complaints claiming that the proximity of the deposit is negatively impacting the health of the population.


The village residents formulated their demands at a village meeting. They didn’t discuss measures for the improvement of the ecology. They saw relocation as the only possible solution to the problem. Naturally one can understand these people.


… The distinct smell of hydrogen sulfide coming from the deposit can be spread by the wind over quite a large distance. But the smell of gas and an excess of the MPC are two different things. As ecological experts have explained, the operator is obliged to conduct a continuous monitoring of the environment within the perimeter of the SPZ. However, the programme for the development of nearby settlements includes the monitoring of the air in ten additional villages within the SPZ vicinity. Even after Tungush ceased to exist, the company began measurements at the next village in terms of remoteness, Priuralie four times per day.


In addition, four automated stations for round-the-clock monitoring are currently active in the region, and their number is increasing. Telephones, with a direct connection to a person on duty at the deposit have been installed at the offices of all rural akims. State organizations require not only an observance of all relevant norms from the investors, for exercising control over the entire monitoring process, but also transparency in regard to all data that is obtained, and charts showing the results of the research are placed at special stands in the village Akimats on the border of the protection zone, and are also published in the local press.


<typohead type="1">The Curve of Distrust</typohead>

As we see it, the claims on the part of the Berezovka residents regarding a deterioration of their health have been investigated. During May of last year, a team of 14 physicians from the Oblast centre conducted a complex medical examination of the village population. The examination methods were applied in order to paint a full picture of the condition of their health. Eye diseases were the main pathology among adults, and children were mostly diagnosed with nervous system disorders. The conclusions made by the medical specialists, was written as, “No diseases were discovered connected with the harmful impact of hydrogen sulfide.” Incidentally, the level of diseases among Berezovka residents was lower than the regional average.


- But one must take into account that we examined only 843 persons, the Deputy Director of the Oblast Healthcare Department Kashura Azhgulova said. 225 residents from the village refused to participate in the medical examination, and their arguments were all the same, we don’t believe you.


The consecution of the growth of the curve of distrust can be traced rather clearly. Beginning in 2002, guests from the CIS and foreign countries began visiting Berezovka. They taught the people how to “fight for their rights”. For example, in November 2002 representatives from the non-governmental ecological organization, ISAR held a training session with the villagers on the methods of interaction with government authorities, and the compiling of letters and appeals to various organizations, including the parliament and mass media.


In the summer of 2003, interviews were conducted with residents in every household regarding the presence of medical problems. E-petitions demanding for relocation were sent to many addresses. Based on the materials received from Berezovka, the foreign ecological organization, Crude Accountability petitioned the International Finance Corporation with a request to exert pressure on the oil production company. In November 2003, while concealing their involvement with the Crude Accountability, two envoys from the organization arrived and addressed the operator with a request for assistance in making a video documentary on global energy problems. The KPO PR department then came to the conclusion that the real goal on the part of the “documentary film makers” was to promote the interests of the Berezovka residents who were striving for relocation.


Attempting to explain the situation and provide objective information on the condition of the environment in the region, representatives of the regional Akimat, ecologists, medical specialists and KPO employees met with Berezovka residents. Unfortunately however, not all of the local residents listened to objective reason.


The Price of the “Relocation Mood”

The Burlin regional Akim, Sagibek Mutashev began his report during the meeting in Berezovka with agricultural production results. Unfortunately, over the last year the weather was not favourable in Berezovka. The average crops in the region totaled 6.4 quintals per 1 hectare, and Berezovka harvested twice less, or only 3 quintals. As a whole this can be explained not by the ecology, but by an absence of large industrial farms in the region, capable of using modern agro-technological principles.


Since the deposit was a huge construction project, many people worked in construction firms. But since the field construction phase of Karachaganak was completed, nearly one half of the entire able-bodied population is now unemployed. Many construction workers from other villages found jobs at different facilities. But the people in Berezovka waited: what if the relocation suddenly goes through? They are only 25 km from the regional centre. The prices for agricultural goods in Aksai are even higher than in the Oblast centre. People can breed cattle and they won’t incur a loss. But some people were cautious, what if they are relocated? There is supply of water for every household. They also have the ability to obtain vegetables. But not everyone plants gardens, however. The Akim of the rural district, Radik Nurmukhamedov discussed the protracted “relocation” mood, as well as the development of the social sector. Berezovka residents enjoy preferences compared with the villages that are the most remote from the deposit. This village has been gasified. The investors assumed all expenses for the natural gas supply. The list of social projects implemented as a result of KPO funding is quite large. An overhaul of the school has been completed. The reconstruction of the kindergarten and the Cultural Palace is planned for 2005. Children and pensioners are provided with summer vacation vouchers, all at the expense of KPO.


Problems that are considered by village residents to be pressing were also discussed at the summary meeting. These included expansion of the clinic, the organization of an outpatient hospital, and the provision of housing for young teachers. The regional Akim promised to render his support for the solution of these issues as well. As for relocation, the position of the regional administration was to lower the demands on the part of the potential new settlers.


- Let’s assume, he said, that the decision regarding relocation is made. Why do you think that you will necessarily move to the Oblast centre? We have many villages in the region that are located quite a distance from the deposit, and working hands will be very useful there.


The Chairman of the Village Veterans Board, Pyotr Fonyak said that families whose members are not afraid of work live rather well. The people of Berezovka have also communicated another pleasant fact to myself. Last year, pupils from the local school planted young trees at the outskirts of the village. Apparently the young people understood more quickly than the adults that they must live here.