Kazakhstan may shut top oilfield hit with 935 virus cases

NUR-SULTAN: Kazakhstan may have to close its most productive oilfield after more than 900 people working there contracted coronavirus, a senior public health official in the Central Asian country said Wednesday.

The country’s chief sanitary doctor, Aizhan Esmagambetova, said at a briefing that cases at the giant Tengiz oilfield have more than doubled since Friday, reaching 935.

The outbreak at the field in the oil-rich western region of Atyrau is the largest in Kazakhstan, which has a total of 6,969 confirmed virus cases.

A government commission has set targets on curbing the spread of infections at Tengiz and a failure to meet these “could lead to larger numbers sick, isolation and the natural or forced closure of the enterprise,” Esmagambetova said.

Thousands of workers have been evacuated from the field operated by Tengizchevroil, which is 50% owned by US energy giant Chevron.

But core operations have so far continued at the field, which last year produced 29.8 million tonnes of oil, a third of Kazakhstan’s total output.

In 2016, Tengizchevroil announced a US$36.8 billion project to expand the field – one of the largest investments to develop new oil production capacity since the 2014 oil price crash forced cutbacks across the industry.

Kazakh state company KazMunayGas also has a stake in the project, along with US giant ExxonMobil and LukArco, a subsidiary of Russia’s Lukoil.