The People have Taken a Partial Step towards Victory

Alla Zlobina

Republic, 2/2/2010

The first ever lawsuit filed by NGOs against the Government of Kazakhstan has received a continuance. The Review Board of the Supreme Court satisfied the complaint filed by the public association “Zhasil Dala” and the Ecological Society “Green Salvation” with its decision to continue to review the case regarding relocating the residents of the village of Berezovka.

The Ecological Society “Green Salvation” and the residents of the village of Berezovka (Burlinsky Raion, Western Kazakhstan Oblast) filed the lawsuit against the Government of Kazakhstan in early 2009. They have accused the federal government of “failing to undertake measures to protect and defend the rights and freedoms of citizens and to ensure the safety of the residents of the village of Berezovka who have been forced to live in a zone that is dangerous to their health, and in violation of their rights to a healthy environment” (Author’s Note: the village is located next to the Karachaganak Field).

The story behind the lawsuit has been ongoing since 2004. As a result of the reduction of the Karachaganak Field’s Sanitary Protection Zone (SPZ) from 5 to 3 kilometers, the village of Berezovka, which is located on the zone’s border, was rendered well outside of its boundaries. As such, the village residents were effectively excluded from the opportunity to raise the question of relocating their village to a safe zone.

In 2006, following numerous complaints by Berezovka’s residents and statements to the media, the Republic of Kazakhstan’s Senior Sanitary Doctor, Anatoly Belonog, acknowledged as illegal the reduction of the Sanitary Protection Zone. Karachaganak Petroleum Operating B.V. should have defined and presented for approval the new borders of the SPZ within the course of one year. However, no such reaction followed on the part of the consortium of foreign companies, and, subsequently, the Ecological Society “Green Salvation” filed the lawsuit on behalf of the residents.

In the course of the past year, the lawsuit has been reviewed in the Western Kazakhstan Oblast Court and the City of Astana’s Interdistrict Economic Court. The case was declared outside the jurisdiction of the court; nevertheless the Interdistrict Economic Court of Astana partially satisfied the legal demands of the villagers by acknowledging as illegal the decision to reduce the Karachaganak Field’s SPZ from 5 to 3 kilometers. However, the residents have fought for relocation of the village because their proximity to the field has already impacted the health of children and adults.

Environmentalists had already lost hope for success in this case when Svetlana Anosova, leader of “Zhasil Dala”, received the decision from the Supreme Court’s Review Board. The villagers’ case will be directed “for a new review by the same court, but under a different judge”.

Svetlana Anosova is convinced that if considered in detail and fairly, then it is possible the determination will be that her native village, where 1500 people live, is located in a zone that is dangerous to life.

“We are now concerned with this issue: If there is a definite size—a five kilometer zone—then there should be a definite reference point,” she concluded. “As far as we understand, the reference point should be determined from the external border of the field equipment, that is, from the last well or other industrial object.”

One month ago, Svetlana Anosova sent an inquiry to KPO, requesting that this reference point be made public, arguing that, as the Karachaganak project is under development and new objects are being constructed, it is possible that the external border of the industrial objects has come significantly closer to the village of Berezovka.

She believes that “under the new calculation, it is altogether likely that the village of Berezovka is located not on the border, but on the territory of the SPZ itself.”

The leader of the public association has not received a concrete answer. It was only dryly reported to her that the issue of the zone’s territory is still under consideration.

Experts believe that in the future, rather than hiding its head in the sand, the country’s government is going to have to resolve the question of the safety of the residents of Western Kazakhstan Oblast’s Burlinsky Raion. Five other villages, consisting of nearly nine thousand people, are situated on the perimeter of the Karachaganak Field’s SPZ—the villages of Uspenovka, Zharsuat, Karachaganak, Zhanatalap and Priuralny. The residents of these villages are also experiencing negative impacts from the Field and, sooner or later, will raise the issue of their relocation.

If the new legal process ends positively and the lawsuit demands are satisfied, the villagers of Berezovka will be relocated. As a rule, the expenses in such cases are incurred by the company that is operating the Field. However, in accordance with the final Production Sharing Agreement, all charges on foreign investors are compensated for by the Kazakhstani government. Therefore, the relocation decision should be made at the federal level.

….It should be noted that this case is unprecedented. We think that there is hardly another country in which the question of the size of a Sanitary Protection Zone for a major oil and gas condensate field, and most importantly, the safety and health of the people living along the zone, would not be resolved during the course of six years.

Translated by Crude Accountability