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By Mariya Gordeyeva
ASTANA May 21 Oil output at Kazakhstan's giant
Kashagan field may not resume until early 2016, Kazakh Oil and
Gas Minister Uzakbai Karabalin said on Wednesday, urging foreign
partners to start replacing leaky pipelines at the deposit.
Production at Kashagan, the world's biggest oil find in 35
years, started last September but halted in early October after
the discovery of gas leaks in the $50 billion project's pipeline
The North Caspian Operating Company (NCOC), which develops
the offshore field in the Caspian Sea, said last month that it
did not expect to produce oil this year due to the leaks.
"It (production) may restart by the end of 2015 if all goes
well," Karabalin told Reuters on the sidelines of the Astana
Economic Forum. "Otherwise, it may turn out to be early 2016."
Kazakhstan is the second-largest post-Soviet oil producer
after Russia. The government had originally hoped Kashagan would
produce 8 million tonnes of crude in 2014.
Citing the results of an investigation, NCOC did not rule
out that oil and gas pipelines might have to be fully replaced,
a possibility raised by Reuters in April.
NCOC has identified stress cracking due to sulphur-laden
gases as "the root cause of the pipeline issues" at Kashagan.
The field's oil is 4,200 metres (4,590 yards) below the
seabed at very high pressure, and associated gas reaching the
surface is mixed with some of the highest concentrations of
toxic, metal-eating hydrogen sulphide ever encountered.
"The investigation is over," Karabalin said. "We are now
waiting for proposals from the consortium members."
"We must receive their working plans, which would contain a
detailed description of everything - when and what they will
purchase, who they will hire and how fast they will be."
Karabalin, formerly a professional oilman with decades of
experience in the industry, said he believed the full
replacement of the pipelines could take up to two years.
Much of Kashagan is built on artificial islands to avoid
damage from pack ice in the Caspian, which freezes for five
months a year in temperatures that drop below minus 30 Celsius
NCOC includes Eni, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch
Shell, Total, China's CNPC,
Japan's Inpex and Kazakh state-run company KazMunaiGas
(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by William Hardy and Dale