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Oil fields – leaks and sludge landfills Zhanaozen

Zhanaozen / Mangystau Province

Foto: Martin Plocek

 Zhanaozen was founded in 1968 as the centre of onshore oil extraction. The city was supposed to inhabit 60.000 people; however, the city expanded much more and rnowadays the population reaches about 120.000. Many of newcomers are recent refugees from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. About 18.000 people work in oil industry run by Ozenmunaygaz.

On this site, we monitored several issues: abandoned oil extraction devices, several tailing ponds and a large lake of an unknown origin, possibly industrial.

Abandoned oil extraction devices

The oil pumps and other devices can be seen and they look much older and worse maintained than those around Zhetybay, also the oil spills can be observed more often. Among the oil pumps, storage of broken or exhausted metallic devices is located. Local workers state that used metallic equipment can be radioactive, as the crude oil is characterized by low level of radioactivity. It is not clear whether all these compounds are disposed safely.  

Tailing ponds

Large tailing ponds can be observed, along the road to Zhetybay, but the land is fenced and guarded. The guards reacted quite aggressively when we tried to take pictures from outside the fence. These ponds are most probably result of the oil extraction process and might consist of oil or waste from the oil extraction. Measures to prevent contamination of surface or underground water do not seem to be implemented. One small tailing pond was also found outside the fenced area and the guards tried to prevent us from taking pictures even at this public land.

Presumably industrial lake

Another potential hotspot have been observed few hundred meters from the Zhanaozen-Zhetibay road, close to the city, followed by several new pipelines installed on the small pillars on the ground. A huge lake can be observed followed if you turn away from the road and crawl up into the valley. At first sight, it looks natural, but artificial “dams” or “separation lines” indicate possible artificial origin of the entire lake. This suggests that it might be a tailing pond of some industrial facility. The location needs further investigation.