April 14, 2012
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№ 2 (February 2012)

Kazakhstan Reflects on 20 Years of Independent Oil&Gas Production

   For Kazakhstan, the past 2011 was marked by several anniversaries. The most significant of these is the 20th anniversary of independence of the Republic. Yet, since Kazakhstan’s economy is largely (more than 70 percent) dependent on oil exports, one shouldn’t slough off the milestones of the country’s oil and gas industry which greatly influenced the future of independent Kazakhstan.

By Aider Kurtmulayev

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   First of all, the country celebrated the centenary of oil production at the Dossor field. The commemorations moved on to Mangistau region, to the fields of famed Mangyshlak Peninsula (Zhetybai, Uzen), which celebrated their half-century in production. Employees of oil and gas sector and the country’s society also marked the 25th anniversary of the Kumkol field (Kyzyl-Orda region). And finally, the last in a series of celebrations was the 20th anniversary of launching the giant Tengiz field.

From the Elder Days

   Indigenous Kazakh people have been familiar with oil since ancient times. “Black gold” has always had a place in steppe nomads’ culture as part of their life and existence. This statement is supported by many place names, especially in the places where oil comes to the surface: for example, Zhaksymay (“good oil”), Munayly (“oily”), Maytobe (“oily hill”), Maykomgen (“the place of oil deposit”), Karaarna (“black track”), Karashungul (“black hollow”), Karamay (“black oil”), Karaton (“black hardened soil”), etc.

   Russian Empire paid particular attention to the oil fields. Peter the Great organized an expedition to the lower course of Emba river (Atyrau region). Later, expeditions were sent to other regions of the Western Kazakhstan – for example, to Mangistau (Mangyshlak) Peninsula. The first oil “fountain” broke free in 1899, but industrial production at Kazakh fields started somewhat later – on 29 April 1911 at Dossor field (Atyrau region). Oil gushed off from the depths of more than 220 meters. The “oil fountain” at the well No. 3 lasted for 30 hours, producing 33,400 stones of oil. Then oil production started at other deposits – Baychunas, Eskene, Sagyz, Koschagyl. This was the beginning of oil and gas industry on the territory of modern Kazakhstan.

Dossor Oil Wins the War

   The Soviet government also appreciated the wealth of the Ural-Emba region. Lenin, the first Soviet leader, included the region’s development into the GOELRO plan (the first-ever Soviet plan for national economic recovery and development). Production infrastructure was installed before the war; industrialization came to the steppe. Before the WWII, USSR managed to build the Caspian – Orsk oil pipeline and Kandagach – Guriev (Atyrau) railway line. It was here (at Dossor field) that industrial-scale water injection for better oil production was used for the first time, in August 1943. Military sources paid tribute to light Dossor oil as the main source of tank fuel: this oil could have been poured into the tank’s fuel cell without any processing.

   Dossor field is 90 kilometers away from Atyrau (Guriev). Crude is located on the six oil pools in the Middle Jurassic layers, at 30 to 300-meter depths. Bedded, tectonically screened deposits located between 8 to 135 meters deep. Oil density is 847-887 kg per cubic meter. Oil is sweet – from 0.2 to 0.22 percent, low in tar – 7 percent, contains paraffine – from 0.2 to 2.07 percent. Associated gas contains methane (77.1 percent to 93.8 percent), ethane (7.15 percent), propane (0.4 percent to 5.1 percent), pentane and higher (0.3 percent), nitrogen and rare gases (0.7 percent to 4.4 percent), carbon dioxide (3 percent to 7.3 percent).

   Today the field is shut down; there is a granite obelisk on the location of well No. 3 with the date of the beginning of Emba oil production. One of KazMunayGas production subsidiaries – Dossormunaygaz, owner of the deposit, is currently operating 13 fields of the province. The producer also opened three new wells. Company’s experts hold that oil production here could be boosted to 511 tons of oil per year.

Mangyshlak as Replacement

   Until 1961 the Ural-Emba region was the only oil-producing Kazakhstan territory, but with already declining production. For oil and gas industry, the turning point was the commissioning of the Mangyshlak oil fields Zhetybai (well No. 6) and Uzen (well G-1). Then Buzachi Peninsula (western part of the Mangyshlak) fields were put online, followed by Kalamkas, Karazhanbas, North Buzachi fields and a number of small, medium and other large deposits. The focus of the country’s upstream industry was transferred from the exhausted Emba region to this “Treasure Half-island”, as territory was known to experts thanks to the huge reserves of natural resources (not only hydrocarbons). Many specialists had also moved there.

   To put it simply, natural and climatic conditions on the Mangistau (Mangyshlak) Peninsula aren’t the best. In winter, temperatures fall to minus 40 degrees Celsius, in summer – rise to plus 40 degrees Celsius, but most importantly – there is no water. Today it is produced either by desalinating sea water or by the pipeline from Atyrau. In the most difficult conditions of hostile desert oilers set up the South Mangistau petroliferous basin, construct roads, install the trunk pipeline (to Atyrau and on to Samara) and the railroad. In Atyrau workmen are building a refinery and implementing new, compressorless gaslift well operating technology; first in the world unit for industrial-scale hot water injection is being installed on one of the wells.

   Already 50 years ago experts discovered in Mangistau over 50 deposits with hundreds-millions-tons of hydrocarbons. The largest are oil and gas fields Uzen, Zhetybai, Tengi, Zhanazhol, Karazhanbas, Kenbai, Tasbulat, etc. Mangyshlak oil is a valuable stock for the petrochemical industry. Uzen oil occurrence depth is relatively small – from 1-2.5 kilometers. Oil density is on average 860 kg per cubic meter, sulfur content – 0.16 percent to 2 percent, paraffines – 16 percent to 22 percent, tar – 8 percent to 20 percent. Southern Mangyshlak and the adjacent land are famed not only for its oil deposits; natural gas resources here are virtually inexhaustible (its probable reserves top 1 trillion cubic meters, in the North Ustyurt – even higher, more than 2 trillion cubic meters).
The future of the “Treasure Half-island” lies not only in onshore depths, but also on the Caspian shelf: this includes the N block, highly promising Kashagan field, “Zhemchuzhina” and some others.

New Oil Deposits Discovered at Kumkol

   This year marks quarter of a century for another large Kazakhstan oil and gas field – Kumkol (Turan oil and gas province). It was opened in February 1984, in the Aral desert of Kyzyl-Kum. Geographically the field is located in Kyzyl-Orda region, 160-180 kilometers north of Kyzyl-Orda city. The field covers 15,881 hectares, including the actual Kumkol and East Kumkol (in development since December 2006). Oil deposits are located at 1-1.5-kilometer depth. Crude density is about 810 kg per cubic meter, sulfur content – 0.11 percent to 0.52 percent, paraffines – about 11 percent, asphaltenes – 0.11 percent to 0.92 percent, tar – 4.8 percent to 8.42 percent. Kumkol production capacity for oil is 130 million tons, for natural gas  – 15 billion cubic meters.

   Today, the field is fully equipped. It is divided into industrial, administrative-economic and disaster recovery area. Production wells stock includes more than 380 wells. Field operator actively uses polymer solutions drilling-in method with overlapping production liner. For utilization of associated gas there are gas turbines and other power devices; APG re-injection technology is also used. Oil is shipped to oil terminals at Zhosaly railway station via 170-kilometer pipeline. The field is developed by PetroKazakhstan company. New oil reserves discovered at Kumkol in 2010 mean new prospects for the industry.

Tengiz Stock Ensures Stability

   Tengiz field, a “giant” deposit by the global classification, was commissioned in April 1991. The field is the contemporary of country’s independence and the symbol of sustainable economic development. It holds over 3 billion tons of oil. Tengiz field propelled Kazakhstan into the top-20 oil-rich states. The deposit is unique in many ways: firstly, Tengiz is the largest in terms of volume; secondly, oil is located deeper than 5 kilometers; thirdly, it is a subsalt deposit; fourthly, there is abnormally high pressure in the layers; fifthly, the oil is rich in hydrogen sulfide (25 percent).

   This oil and gas field located within Prikaspiyskaya oil and gas province in the Atyrau region (some 160 kilometers south-east of Atyrau) was discovered in 1979. It was launched in April 1991, together with Tengiz oil and gas processing plant. The field is owned by a joint venture which installed there a first-generation complex technological line, followed by second-generation processing facility. Today it is the biggest in the world sour oil processing facility.

   Original reservoir pressure at the deposit is 84.24 MPa, oil temperature – 105 degrees Celsius. Oil density is 790 kg per cubic meter. The produced crude is sour (about 0.7 percent of sulfur), paraffine-containing (over 3.69 percent) and low in tar (up to 1.14 percent). It includes about 0.13 percent of asphaltenes. Recoverable reserves at this Tengizchevroil-owned field are estimated at 1 billion tons of oil, anticipated reserves – over 3 billion tons of oil, reserves of associated gas – at almost 2 trillion cubic meters.

   Oil, as ever, plays crucial role in the life of Kazakh people. At the ceremonial meeting dedicated to the jubilee year oil and gas minister Sauat Mynbayev said that today “oil and gas industry is destined to solve ever more serious challenges, helping to develop other industries, being a basis for the development of Kazakhstan economy less dependent on the global hydrocarbons markets” and urged his compatriots to use sparingly oil and gas resources of the country.

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