Leaders of independent states of the Caspian Sea region
Caspian Sea Region

Every year, 12 August is marked as an international Caspian Sea Day, the day of coming into effect of the Framework Convention on the Caspian Sea Maritime Environment Protection (the Teheran Convention) which regrettably remains a declaratory document.

The Caspian Sea is a unique water body which littoral zone provides residence for more than five million people. Today it requires our utmost consideration and urgent interference.

The biggest lake in the world, especially its northern part is a natural habitat for more than 90% of the world population of sturgeon and many unique animals (like a Caspian seal), and the most important part of the migrant birds’ routes. However, the water mass of the shallow northern part of the Caspian Sea does not exceed 400 cubic kilometers but it is exactly the place where the vast majority of bio-resources can be found. It is 200 times less than the water mass of the entire Caspian Sea – which is about 80 000 cubic kilometers. At the same time, just one man-caused disaster, for example, oil or sulfur-containing associated gas escape may kill all North Caspian fauna. On 23 September 1968, the USSR Council of Ministers passed a government regulation “On declaring the northern part of the Caspian Sea including the Volga and the Ural deltas (as well as the Volga-Akhtubin floodplain) a ‘conservation area’ with the permission to develop only fish industry and water transport in this area in the future”.

After dissolution of the Soviet Union, in 1993 independent Kazakhstan under the pressure of the western oil lobby gave the consortium of foreign companies a permission to provide oil exploration on the Caspian shelf. The contract worth of 136 billion US dollars was signed on terms of product-sharing agreement, i.e. the oil produced is supposed first to cover the consortium project expenses. Taking into account current oil prices, this will drag on for decades.

Today the profit gained from fishery is a serious revenue item for the Caspian Sea countries, besides, the industry provides jobs for thousands of fishers. If to ensure joint rational use of renewable, hence – inexhaustible North Caspian bio-resources – the long-term period income will be immeasurably bigger than production of hydrocarbons can yield!

Drilling in shoaling water (1-5 meters), at abrupt temperature fluctuation (down to minus 30), at a depth of 3-4 thousand meters differs radically from drilling in the deep-water of Azerbaijan and Turkmen shelves and is in itself a technologically complicated task. If to add to this high oil pressure, seismicity of the region, and what is most important, high content of toxic hydrogen sulfide, sulfur and mercaptan, nobody can guarantee avoiding an ecological catastrophe. That is why none of the insurance companies decided to insure the project. The consortium itself speeds up the oil production time, not concerned about the measures designed to prevent a catastrophe. For example, the rapid response operations base for oil escapes has not yet been built, though drilling activity has been provided since August 1999 and in 2001, they could not avoid an oil escape and hydrogen sulfide emission. Given the lack of preventive measures against oil escapes any oil-related operations on the Caspian Sea must be viewed as a crime against Mankind because the consequences of possible ecological catastrophe will hit not only the five Caspian countries but the entire ecosystem of the planet!

The projected annual oil production volume of 50 million tons only in the Kazakhstan sector of the Caspian Sea in view of possible oil escapes will lead to unavoidable destruction of this unique water body. Almost today, at the stage of exploratory boring the activity of oil companies has led to drastic decrease of sturgeon population (now it is 20 times less compared to 1990), there is documented evidence of mass death cases of Caspian seals and birds. Unfortunately, the Russian oil industry, namely “Lukoil” and “Rosneft” companies are also involved in exploratory boring. We believe that only geopolitical considerations underlie such a decision otherwise it is impossible to justify it even economically letting alone environmental reasons. Both Russia and Kazakhstan have enough on land oil deposits and there is no need at all to drill for oil in the Caspian Sea!

We, civic and environmental non-governmental organizations of the Caspian Sea countries call on the leadership of Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation to initiate introduction of a temporary moratorium on further exploration and production of hydrocarbons throughout the North of the Caspian Sea.
A big set of reasons may serve as a basis for moratorium introduction:
- Lack of perfected technical solutions for shoaling water drilling operations performed from artificial mound islands at abrupt temperature fluctuations and seasonal changes of water level;
- Lack of preparedness for providing quick disaster response in case of gas and oil escape, lack of appropriate base and fleet;
- Uninsured environmental risks of the project, unavoidability and impossibility to pay out ecological forfeits to the adjacent states;
- Territorial claims of the Caspian Sea states concerning the status of the sea (or the lake);
- Lack of technical possibilities for thorough monitoring by government agencies, namely the RK Ministry of Environmental Protection and RosPrirodnadzor (the respective agency of the Russian Federation - translator);
- Underdeveloped network of non-governmental organizations, public associations, international organizations in the Caspian region that should provide independent monitoring;
- Inconsistency of Kazakhstan and Russian legal framework in the field of environmental protection with international standards;
- No transparency for the wide public with regard to the oil contracts concluded.

By initiating the moratorium until all the above-mentioned issues are solved, Russia and Kazakhstan will come out as consistent defenders of the environment thus adding more to their international prestige. They will change the geopolitical situation in the Caspian region where transnational corporations dictate the game rules. At the same time, western companies will have to demonstrate in practice their adherence to ecological standards in their business. To compensate the funds spent by the consortium participants as one of the options is to leave discovered oil fields on the companies’ geological balance and to ensure their conservation for future generations, ad exemplum of the USA, when oil and gas production technology will guarantee avoidance of ecological catastrophes in the North Caspian region.

We also call on the leadership of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to share our concern about the future of the Caspian Sea and to toughen control over oil producing companies, and to bring the ecological legislation of their countries in conformity with international standards.

Creation of the International Fund for Saving the Caspian Sea with involvement of international organizations and donors could be a starting point for the countries of the region in their efforts to save the Caspian Sea.


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The Save the Caspian Sea petition to Leaders of independent states of the Caspian Sea region was written by Pavel and is in the category Environment at GoPetition.