CASH COW AWAITS

Kazakhstan 2014 | ENERGY | FOCUS: KASHAGAN OIL FIELD PROJECT

The end is in sight for the long-delayed project, which is expected to significantly boost government revenues and push Kazakhstan into the big league of oil producers.

It was back in 2000 when prospectors struck gold—black gold—in the north Caspian Sea. Since then, an international consortium has been hard at work to get the field pumping. Delays, however, the latest of which came in April 2014, have kept the government waiting for the increased revenues Kashagan is set to provide.

Kashagan boasts proven recoverable oil reserves of 761.1 million tons, according to Ernst & Young (EY), while the owners are also continuing to explore other structures in the North Caspian, namely Kalamkas, Kashagan SW, Aktote, and Kairan. The total reserves put Kashagan behind the Karachaganak field, which has 1.2 billion tons of recoverable oil and gas condensate and possibly Tengiz, too, which has between 750 million tons and 1.1 billion tons of recoverable oil reserves.

The project's operator is the North Caspian Operating Company (NCOC), the principal owner of which is state-owned KazMunayGas (16.88%), followed by Eni, ExxonMobil, Shell, and Total, all with 16.81%, and CNPC with 8.33% and INPEX with 7.56%. China-based CNPC was a latecomer to the consortium, purchasing its stake from KazMunayGas, which had previously bought out ConocoPhillips' stake for $5 billion. Delays have seen the setup change several times at the field, with Eni first put in charge of construction and delivery, before that decision was abandoned in 2008 in favor of a plan of collective responsibility, unusual in such a project.

In September 2013, eight years after production was first scheduled to begin, NCOC began test-producing oil with the aim of reaching 75,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) by October of the same year. But the $50 billion project was then struck by a fresh delay, bringing to a halt plans to boost production to 370,000 bbl/d in 2014. The delay came in the form of cracks found in the pipeline, a result of the sulfur-heavy gas produced as a byproduct of oil at the field, according to the Financial Times. A 200-kilometer stretch of the pipeline will now need replacing, setting production back to late 2015 or early 2016, according to some estimates. The blow could have cost Kazakhstan 0.5 percentage points in GDP growth for 2014, and temporarily delayed the country's accession to the big league of oil producers. Indeed, it is hoped that, with the help of Kashagan, Kazakhstan could begin to produce as much oil as Libya. When at full capacity, Kashagan could produce 1.66 million bbl/d alone, or as much as Angola. And it certainly is an impressive sight; the project has been constructed across artificial islands in order to avoid damage from the threat of pack ice, present in a sea that freezes for five months of the year.

While frustrations are obvious, the potential bounty that Kashagan offers up could go a long way in Kazakhstan, helping to shore up revenues and spur on economic growth.