Kazakhstan may have to halt Tengiz oilfield over coronavirus: doctor

NUR-SULTAN (Reuters) - Kazakhstan’s Tengiz oilfield may have to halt work if management and local authorities fail to curb the spread of the coronavirus cases among workers, Kazakhstan’s chief sanitary doctor said on Wednesday.

There have been 935 cases of COVID-19 reported among Tengiz workers, out of the country’s total of 6,969 cases, government data showed.

The field employs thousands of workers many of whom live in nearby camps and the local outbreak initially spread at one of those camps. A government commission has adopted a special plan to curb the virus’ spread.

“At the moment, it is necessary to ensure control over the implementation of this plan, otherwise it may lead to growth in the number of cases, isolation and natural shutdown of the company or forced shutdown of the company,” the chief sanitary doctor Aizhan Yesmagambetova told a briefing.

Kazakhstan’s biggest oil producer, Chevron-led Tengizchevroil (TCO), said on Wednesday it was taking robust measures to safeguard operations.

“We have implemented many safeguards designed to protect our people and our business, including our production operations in Tengiz, from COVID-19,” Chevron spokeswoman Sally Jones said.

TCO has compartmentalised critical personnel into separate “pods”, Jones said.

“This ‘podding’ strategy prevents close contact between groups and workers and means that in the event of any virus transmission into one team of essential personnel, another team of essential personnel is ready to replace them and continue work that is integral to keep our production running.”

Tengiz accounts for a third of Kazakhstan’s oil output. Exxon Mobil, Russia’s LUKOIL and Kazakh state energy firm KazMunayGaz also have stakes in TCO.

Kazakhstan has started relaxing coronavirus-related restrictions, but a spike in cases among Tengiz workers has drawn the attention of the government leading to the introduction of its special plan.

TCO said: “Currently, TCO production continues uninterrupted and we remain focused on maintaining safe and reliable operations.” TCO produced 10.2 million tonnes of oil in January-April, a 3% increase year on year.

The venture has reduced the number of its own and contractors’ staff at the site and reduced work on a $45 billion expansion project to curb the outbreak.

The company said it had developed COVID-19 testing to identify people who may have been exposed to the virus. A hospital has been established in Tengiz to handle mild and asymptomatic cases.

Reporting by Tamara Vaal; Additional reporting by Mariya Gordeyeva in Almaty; writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Jason Neely