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Hydrocarbon production and energy security in the Caspian Region – Dr. Miryusif Mirbabayev

The Caspian Region a new source and an alternative route to Europe’s energy security with the proper environmental control

Azeris cool off in the Caspian Sea with offshore oil rigs in the background in Baku. (AFP)

By Dr. Miryusif Mirbabayev

The environmental control of pollution during oil and gas production in the Caspian region is briefly presented. Since there is currently an intensive offshore oil and gas production, environmental problems and solutions for all oil and gas companies operating offshore should be in the first place. The article indicates the main problems for environmentalists, oil and gas specialists of the five Caspian countries, which must be taken into account and solved in first place.  ______________________________________________

 The indisputability of environmental control over oil pollution in the Caspian Sea is obvious, especially in the implementation of offshore projects, the operation of oil transportation and storage infrastructure. The role of oil products and oil waste entering the sea has not yet been fully studied, since oil is a mixture of various substances, of which from 50 to 90% (depending on the field) is hydrocarbons, and the rest is heteroatomic compounds containing as carbon and hydrogen, as well as sulfur, nitrogen, oxygen and trace elements. Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which accumulate in marine ecosystems and are cyclic hydrocarbons, consisting mainly of benzene rings with substituted and unsubstituted hydrogen atoms, have a severe impact on the flora and fauna of the Caspian Sea. It is known that almost all PAHs are carcinogenic substances with mutagenic activity, and the most active carcinogenic compound is benzopyrene.

Also, we note the oil-containing field waters, which in their composition contain a high concentration of hydrocarbon compounds, salts and microelements. The general characteristics and composition of commercial waters formed during oil and gas production in the Caspian Sea are shown in [1]. Here we will also show the content of microelements, mainly found in oil-containing commercial waters of the Caspian Sea (in mg/l): Fe (0.1-1100), K (24-4300), Mg (0.9-600), Al (0 .4-410), Mn (0.004-175), Pd (0.008-0.88), Ti (0.01-0.70), etc. Drilling waste also contains such toxic reagents as acrylic polymers, caustic soda, soda ash, polyacrylamide, chromium peak, clay, barite, which have been entering the Caspian for years: they accumulate during the construction of countless wells during large-scale drilling in all sectors of the Caspian countries [1-3].

It should be noted that even under the standard regime of oil production, each drilling rig is a source of many pollutions, which include solid, liquid and gaseous components. The relevance of protecting the ecology of the Caspian was clearly noted back in 1991 (June 13-17) at the I-st International Conference on the Problems of the Caspian Sea, which was held in Baku, one of the main goals of which was to reduce oil pollution of the Caspian during exploration and drilling.

Exactly 30 years later (May 27-28, 2021), the International Scientific Forum “Caspian 2021: Ways of Sustainable Development” was held in Astrakhan (Russia), at which the problem of environmental security of the Caspian was also one of the important issues. The main goal of the forum was the formation of effective mechanisms for strengthening the integration of scientific and technical cooperation and the joint solution of environmental problems by the Caspian countries. At the forum, it was especially noted that the most “interested player in the security of the Caspian Sea is Azerbaijan” [4].

This is true, because it is the supply of Azerbaijani gas through the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) to Europe that makes a huge contribution to the diversification of Europe’s energy supply and its energy security. We emphasize that TAP, with a length of up to 880 km, has become the first project for the supply of Azerbaijani gas to Europe. Thanks to him, the European Union (EU) received an additional source of hydrocarbon raw materials. Recall that on December 31, 2020, a landmark event took place in the global oil and gas business: commercial deliveries of Azerbaijani gas via TAP to Europe (to the gas distribution networks of Italy, Greece and Bulgaria) were launched.

All oil and gas companies in the Caspian region should realize the need to prepare and implement comprehensive measures aimed at minimizing risks and environmental impacts during the commercial operation of oil and gas facilities. Against the background of growing production volumes and large-scale oil and gas projects being implemented in the Caspian Sea, issues of industrial ecology and life safety should be a priority. The intensity of oil and gas production in the Caspian is steadily growing: for example, only in Azerbaijan, the leading oil company of Azerbaijan – State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) and partners in the project to develop the Shah Deniz gas condensate field in the Azerbaijani sector of the Caspian Sea signed an agreement in December 2010 to extend the term of the contract for this field until 2036 (the previous contract was valid until 2031).

According to SOCAR, by 2024 the volume of gas production in Azerbaijan can reach 50 billion cubic meters per year; and proven gas reserves in the republic amount to 2.6 trillion cubic meters. This is confirmed by new discovered Azerbaijani gas fields – Shah Deniz, Umid and Absheron, as well as the development of promising structures – Zafar-Mashal, Babek, Shafag, Asiman and Nakhсhivan.

For reference: the Babek field, with estimated gas reserves of 400 billion cubic meters and Umid with reserves of at least 200 billion cubic meters. Significant volumes of gas are planned to be obtained from the deep-water part of the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli field. As well as the gas field “Absheron”, where proven recoverable reserves amount to 350 billion cubic meters. Of this amount, a maximum of 50 billion will go to meet the needs of the domestic market, the rest will be sold on foreign markets. As per SOCAR data the Absheron gas field is one of the largest gas condensate fields.

The primary role in protecting the ecology of the Caspian Sea should also be determined in the implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), through which, since 2020, supplies of 10 billion cubic meters of Azerbaijani gas from the Shah Deniz offshore field to Southern Europe have begun. It should be noted that SGC is an energy project that significantly enhances the diversification of energy resources transportation sources and ensures Europe’s energy security.

Back in September 2017, an oil strategy for the oil and gas industry of Azerbaijan until 2050 was defined and approved. And on May 29, 2018, the launch ceremony of the first stage of the SGC took place in Baku: the first gas from the Shah Deniz field has already gone through the first segment of the SGC – from the Sangachal terminal expanded for Shah Deniz-2 through the expanded South Caucasus gas pipeline. The next stage was the commissioning of the TANAP (Trans Anatolian Pipeline) gas pipeline, through which gas is transported to Turkey and further to Europe.

Here it is appropriate to quote the statements of the Commissioner for International Energy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, Dora Zombori, and the General manager of the Italian energy company SNAM, Marco Alvera, which speak eloquently of many things.

According to Dora Zombori, “the start of gas supplies to Europe is an important milestone for the European gas market. SGC, which combines a new source and an alternative route, will contribute to Europe’s energy security and supply diversification”.

 Marco Alvera is sure that “at a time of sharp rise and instability in gas prices and supply tensions around the world, thanks to the commissioning of the TAP, the situation with energy security in Italy today is better than in other European countries”.

Indeed, for 25 years Azerbaijan will annually supply Europe with more than 10 billion cubic meters of gas, of which about 8 billion will be received by Italy, 2 billion by Greece and Bulgaria. The total capacity of the Southern Gas Corridor is 20 billion cubic meters per year. In total, 8.1 billion cubic meters of gas were transported via TAP from December 31, 2020 to December 31, 2021: 6.8 billion cubic meters were delivered to Italy via TAP, 1.2 billion cubic meters to Greece and Bulgaria.

That is, by direct access to the European market, which is the largest importer of natural gas in the world, Azerbaijan diversifies its export opportunities.

The success of the Southern Gas Corridor is a milestone event for Europe, whose energy security received serious guarantees with its launch. At the first stage, the gas produced within the second phase of the development of the Shah Deniz field is considered as the main source, but at a later stage, other sources are already connected to the project. An example is the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline: at present, not only Azerbaijani, but also Kazakhstan oil is transported through it. It is possible that gas from the Dostlug field, which will be jointly developed by Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, can also go through the Southern Gas Corridor.

For reference: the offshore oil and gas field “Dostlug”, which has not been exploited so far, was discovered in 1986 by Azerbaijani specialists with the name “Kapaz”; oil reserves are estimated at about 50 million tons.

On February 4, 2022, in Baku, in the Gulistan Palace, the VIII meeting of ministers was held within the framework of the SGC Advisory Council, which became a kind of summing up the results of the first year of the operation of the SGC, which has been involved throughout its entire length since the end of 2020. Azerbaijani gas supplies to Europe began in the first days of 2021. SGC has become one of the landmark and largest projects of the 21st century: we recall that its construction amounted to 33 billion US dollars.  Also, it should be noted that SGC is an energy project that significantly enhances the diversification of energy resources transportation sources and ensures Europe’s energy security.

I would like to emphasize that in the nearest future the EU will seek to increase oil imports from Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, the countries of the Persian Gulf and Nigeria.

Based on the foregoing, the importance of environmental control (conducting a monitoring system) for oil pollution of the Caspian Sea, which is necessary for the implementation of new offshore projects, as well as the introduction of the latest technologies aimed at accelerating the processes of oil and gas production, is obvious. It should be noted that environmental impact assessment makes it possible to take into account the requirements of environmental safety and prevent possible technogenic risks even at the stage of designing production facilities.

Obviously, the intensity of development of oil and gas production is typical for all the Caspian countries. For example, in 2016, only SOCAR produced 7.52 million tons of oil from onshore and offshore fields in the Azerbaijani sector of the Caspian Sea, and in general, in January-November 2021, oil production in Azerbaijan amounted to 31.6 million tons.

And Kazakhstan, for example, this year can produce up to about 86 million tons of oil, by 2025 it will be able to increase oil production by another 10 million tons; and in the future, by 2028, Kazakhstan plans to increase production to 105 million tons per year.

Environmental control of pollution of the Caspian Sea with intensive oil and gas production is necessary to prevent marine pollution. Moreover, accelerated oil and gas production is expected in the near future (until 2050); in this connection, environmental issues and their solution for all oil and gas companies operating in the Caspian Sea should be paramount. This was also said at the XXIII General Assembly of the Association of State Universities and Research Centers of the Caspian Countries, held on December 2-3, 2021 in Aktau (Kazakhstan). It was emphasized at the Assembly that the global project “Caspian: the axial region of Eurasia” is already being developed, the goals of which are to consolidate the scientific community of the Caspian region’s countries and create a single scientific information space for environmental control.

Here it is appropriate to cite some interesting facts about the intensive development of oil and gas production in the Caspian Sea in the 2022 by Azerbaijan:

  1. On December 12, 2021 the 4922nd Nordorse tanker with Azerbaijani oil was sent from the Turkish port of Ceyhan to Trieste (Italy). According to BP data, since the start of operation (since June 2006), 500 million tons of oil have been exported via the BTC pipeline to Turkey and then to world markets.

 2) On March 31, according to the data of the BOTAŞ company, the 5,000th tanker with Azerbaijani oil transported through the BTC oil pipeline was shipped at the Ceyhan Sea terminal in the Turkish province of Adana. And from Ceyhan, crude oil enters the world market.

3) According to the Ministry of Energy, Azerbaijan exported 9.4 billion cubic meters of gas in January-May 2022 (of which 4.5 billion cubic meters were sent to Europe), which is 27% higher than the same period last year.

4) In January-June 2022, 106 million 982 thousand 579 barrels of Azerbaijani crude oil were shipped from the sea terminal of the BTC oil pipeline in the Ceyhan region of Adana province in Turkey, which from there (from the terminal named after Heydar Aliyev) is supplied by tankers to the world market. Since June 2006, the Turkish section of the BTC has been operated by BOTAŞ International Ltd.

5) On July 8, 2022 the opening ceremony of the Greece-Bulgaria Interconnector (IGB) was held in the Greek region of Komotini to transport Azerbaijani natural gas to Bulgaria. The opening of IGB is a strategically important event in the diversified energy supply of Bulgaria and South-Eastern European countries, including Hungary, and even to Austria.

6) On July 18, 2022 as a result of the visit of the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, a “Memorandum of Understanding on a strategic partnership between the EU, represented by the European Commission, and the Republic of Azerbaijan in the energy sector” was signed in Baku. By 2027, Azerbaijani gas supplies to the EU countries are expected to double.

7) By October 19, about 30 billion cubic meters of Azerbaijani natural gas was pumped through the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline to Europe through Turkey; that is, TANAP becomes the main artery of Europe.

List of References

  1. Al-Ghouti M.A. et al., 2019. Produced water characteristics, treatment and reuse: A review // Journal of Water Process Engineering, v.28, p.222-239.

  2. Mirbabayev M.F., 2020. Oil-gas ecology of the Caspian Sea // Noema (Romania), v.XIX, p.301-305.  (noema.crifst.ro/ARHIVA/2020-16.pdf)

  3. Балаба В.И., 2004. Обеспечение экологической безопасности строительства скважин на море // Бурение и нефть, №1, с.18-21.

  4.  Мир-Бабаев М.Ф., 2021. Микроэлементы в нефтях и экология Каспийского моря – Сборник материалов международного научного форума «Каспий 2021: пути устойчивого развития”. Астрахань: Астраханский университет, с.425-427.

Keywords: Оil pollution, oil products, drill cuttings, Trans-Adriatic pipeline, Shah Deniz field, Southern Gas Corridor, Trans-Anatolian pipeline.  

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