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Kazakhstan Struggles To Balance Oil Production With Environmental Goals

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Kazakhstan will unveil its program to curb methane emissions during the UN climate conference in Baku in November, Kazakh officials have revealed. The announcement is the latest in a series of actions to keep the country’s greenhouse gas reduction efforts on track after Astana joined the Global Methane Pledge at the end of 2023.

This voluntary agreement encourages signatories to collectively reduce global methane pollution by at least 30 percent below 2020 levels by 2030. The commitment is in line with international incentives to combat global warming. Kazakhstan is set to cut its emissions by 4.9 percent from 2020 levels, or up to 2 million metric tons. The effort will involve total spending of at least $1.4 billion through 2030, a figure based on US and international projections for Kazakhstan’s oil and gas sector.

“We have developed a roadmap to meet these methane reduction commitments,” said Saule Sabieva, a top official at the Kazakh Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, who participated in an early June meeting in Germany that laid the groundwork for the upcoming UN climate conference, known as COP29. Measures will be tailored to each industry, she added.

According to researchers, the energy sector is the largest source of methane emissions, accounting for almost two-thirds of emissions between 1990 and 2021. Agriculture was a distant second as a methane source over the same period, accounting for 30 percent. Waste management rounded out the top three with 6.5 percent of emissions.

Between June and December 2023, Kazakhstan experienced what was reportedly the second-largest anthropogenic methane leak ever documented. A natural gas fire started during well-drilling operation in the Mangystau region of southwestern Kazakhstan. Methane levels in the air were measured at 480 times the legal limit. The well operator, Buzachi Neft, was penalized with $780,000 in fines.

The fire lasted about 200 days and was not extinguished until December 25, more than three weeks after Kazakhstan announced its commitment to the Global Methane Pledge. 

In May, Buzachi Neft, the methane super-emitter, announced plans to drill 23 new wells in the Mangystau region. The proposed drilling depth was set at 4,265 feet, with a margin of 820 feet. Construction work could begin as early as September. The wells are expected to start production between 2025 and 2034. The private oil company did not respond to a request for comment on what adjustments have been made to safety measures to prevent methane leaks like the one that occurred in 2023.

Another oil and gas producer, state-owned KazMunayGas, has been more transparent with its “methane management” strategy. It signed a memorandum of cooperation with Oslo-based Carbon Limits, an environmental consultancy that provides solutions to reduce emissions. The firm deployed its Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) program for a test demonstration at one of KazMunayGas’ production sites.

The technology uses satellite imagery to identify methane super-emitters. Infrared cameras pinpoint the exact source of methane seeps. The leaks can then be promptly sealed. The training involved 24 employees from KazMunayGas and its subsidiaries. “In the future, [they] will independently implement the LDAR system at their sites,” the company said in the statement. According to media reports, applying the know-how could cost from $1 million.

Beyond the LDAR rollout, several measures are planned as part of Astana’s commitment to the Global Methane Pledge. As reported by the LS news agency, an estimated $80 million could be allocated to upgrade coalbed infrastructure and process methane for power generation. Another $200 million could be used for early coal seam degassing at the Tentekskaya mine in northeastern Kazakhstan. This will be done using the plasma pulse impact method. This technique helps create micro-fractures and is used in methane-unsafe mines. At least $70 million a year is needed to deal with methane leaks at Kazakhstan’s oil and gas facilities.

In April, the Ministry of Energy approached the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to jointly attract investment for new projects. In May, the development of national standards for methane reduction was discussed at the Enhanced Strategic Partnership Dialogue, a format that brought a Kazakh delegation to Washington.

By Ekaterina Venkina via Eurasianet.org

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