* No official estimate yet for restart
* PM says equipment failed
* Group preparing for possible equipment purchase
By Raushan Nurshayeva
ASTANA, Feb 28 Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Serik
Akhmetov said on Friday he hoped that the country's giant
offshore oilfield Kashagan could restart output within months
and produce 3 million tonnes of crude by the end of the year.
There has not yet been any official estimate for the restart
of the $50-billion venture following an accident which halted it
The world's biggest oil discovery in 35 years, production at
Kashagan began in September but was stopped just weeks later
after a gas leak was detected.
Repeated delays have infuriated the government, which has
threatened to fine the multinational consortium operating the
huge oil reservoir in the Caspian Sea.
"Kashagan is standing idle today. I hope that in the first
half or early in the second half (of 2014) it will resume
production," Akhmetov told a government meeting.
"And I hope that this year we will produce three million
tonnes of oil," he said in a reference to Kashagan.
The government and members of the consortium expect to have
results of steel tests and inspections next month which will
allow them to estimate when output might resume.
"The most modern technologies were used to launch these
mega-facilities," Akhmetov said.
"But you can see, how hard it is to launch this project, and
the start of oil production showed that ... equipment, including
pipelines, did not stand the test."
The North Caspian Operating Company (NCOC) developing the
oilfield has said pipes fully meet the requirements of the NACE
(National Association of Corrosion Engineers).
NCOC said last week that as a precautionary measure to save
time it had begun a tender process for the potential purchase of
pipeline joints "for various scenarios".
Akhmetov made no mention of any possible sanctions against
the consortium for delayed output at Kashagan.
Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell, Total,
Eni and Kazakh state oil company KazMunaiGas
each hold a 16.81 percent stake in Kashagan.
Japan's Inpex has 7.56 percent, and China National
Petroleum Corp (CNPC) acquired 8.33 percent in 2013
as ConocoPhillips COP.N exited.
The project aims to produce up to 1.66 million barrels a day
- as much oil as OPEC member Angola - from a reserve almost as
big as Brazil's.
Much of its infrastructure is built on artificial islands to
avoid damage from pack ice in a shallow sea, which freezes five
months a year in temperatures that drop below minus 30 degrees
Celsius (-22 F).