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Kazakhstan Field's Riches Come With a Price

Published: October 23, 2001 (Issue # 715)



  • Winterton plans to turn the 7.5-meter-thick, football-field-sized slabs of sulphur into pellets for export to Mediterranean markets.
    Photo: Christopher Pala / For The St. Petersburg Times

The Tengiz field in Kazakhstan is considered one of the greatest petrochemical finds ever. But it is also one of the most challenging. As Christopher Pala reports, there's a lot more to extracting oil there than boring a hole in the ground - like dealing with 200-meter towers of fire and millions of tons of eye-burning sulfur.

TENGIZ, Kazakhstan - Viewed from an approaching helicopter, the enormous slabs of canary-yellow sulfur reflect the desert sun like flattened gold bars, dwarfing the shiny processing plants of the world's sixth-largest oil field set on the parched shores of the Caspian Sea.

There are 4.5 million tons of sulfur at Tengiz spread out on football-field-sized cakes that are 7.5 meters thick. And every day another 4,500 tons of liquid sulfur comes up with the oil and is sprayed with agricultural watering equipment out onto the yellow slabs, solidifying rapidly into a luminous, porous material that gives off hardly any odor at all. It has accumulated here in such huge quantities because of the simple fact that the cost of getting it to market is more than what people will pay for it: Sulfur is a commodity, used as fertilizer and in the chemical industry, that today is in abundant supply.

The giant slabs represent a testimony to the impressive amounts of oil that Tengiz has already produced, but they are also a huge challenge staring the Chevron executives who operate the Tengiz field in the face: How can one find a way to dispose of so much sulfur?

The oil field's other eye-catching features are the five flaring towers that, day in and day out, send plumes of smoky orange flames into the air. With all gas pipelines leading to Russia - a country awash in gas - building the facilities to break it down and sell to Russia is not an effort that makes any economical sense.

"It is impossible to find any serious excuse for flaring," wrote Kazakh oil expert Sagat Tugelbayev in a local oil journal recently, "because it is a waste of one of the most valuable raw material required for industrial and domestic needs."

Tugelbayev's statement is representative of the widely held view among the 15 million residents of this former Soviet central Asian republic, a country the size of Western Europe. As a result, the government of President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been saying publicly for years that Tengiz's gas must be utilized, not flared.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Aug. 28


Learn more about the citys upcoming municipal elections during the presentation of the project Road Map for the Municipal Elections being presented this evening in the conference hall on the third floor of Biblioteka at 21 Nevsky Prospekt. Steve Kaddins, a coordinator for Beautiful St. Petersburg, which gives residents an online forum to lodge complaints about infrastructure problems in the city, will be on hand to answer any questions. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and is open to all.



Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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