HUMAN RIGHTS / AN OIL DEMOCRACY, OR THE STORY OF BEREZOVKA
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AN OIL DEMOCRACY, OR THE STORY OF BEREZOVKA


Since 2001, the residents of the village of Berezovka, which was formerly a thriving state farm (Burlinsky District, West Kazakhstan Oblast), have been standing up for their right to live in a healthy environment. They have found themselves hostage to transnational corporations and the natural resource exploitation politics of the government of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Background

The village of Berezovka is located adjacent to one of the largest oil and gas condensate fields in the world—Karachaganak. It was opened in 1979, but active development of the field began relatively recently. In 1998, a Production Sharing Agreement was signed between the Republic of Kazakhstan and well-known oil extraction companies ENI (Italy), British Gas (UK), Chevron (USA) and LUKOIL (Russia).  The resulting consortium “Karachaganak Petroleum Operating B.V. (KPO)” obtained the right to extract the oil and gas (www.kpo.kz, 19 June 2006).

A distinctive feature of the field is the high concentration of hydrogen sulfide in the natural gas—from 4% to 4.3% (CAO Assessment Report, 2005, p. 5).  Hydrogen sulfide is a strong nerve toxin that causes the cessation of breathing, leading to death (Reference book, 1977, pp. 50-54). Therefore, the Karachaganak Field is an enterprise of unparalleled danger and the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) has listed it as a particularly dangerous entity (Procedures…, 2003).

As Berezovka lies within the enterprise’s five-kilometer Sanitary Protection Zone (SPZ), in accordance with the legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the village residents should have been relocated to a safe location (Letter No. 2-2-2-12/300-2).

Once the active development of the Karachaganak Field began, and in spite of KPO’s use of new technology, the environmental situation in Berezovka rapidly began to decline. This was immediately noted by state environmental protection bodies (Informational Ecological Bulletin, 1998, pp. 30-37). Medical studies conducted by local doctors and central scientific research institutes proved that the unfavorable environmental situation is having a disastrous effect on people’s health (Burlinsky Vesti, 22 June 2002; Proceedings…, 2002).

Originally, the Oblast Environmental Protection Administration was concerned about the fact that the villages of Berezovka and Tungush were located in the enterprise’s SPZ.  An accident at the Field could threaten the lives of thousands of people (Proceedings…, 2002). The Ministry supported this opinion by the Oblast Administration.  It “developed a project” in which it is stated that the local authorities and the company should “resolve the issue of relocating the population of the villages from the Sanitary Protection Zone”. Moreover, the Ministry raised the question of increasing the size of the SPZ (Letter No. 02-05-09/1639; Burlinsky Vesti, 22 June 2002).

However, despite the unanimity of the environmental protection departments and the public, the relocation of Tungush and Berezovka residents did not begin in 2002.  Local authorities took an indecisive position, and the consortium obviously did not rush to ensure people’s safety (Burlinsky Vesti, 22 June 2002).  Inquiries by members of Parliament to the Prime Minister were also futile, in spite of the fact that the Prime Minister’s predecessor had stated that the question of relocation was being resolved (Deputy Inquiry…, 24 April 2002).

The course of events

In  accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the individual and his/her rights and freedoms are of the highest value to our government (Article 1).  The government aims to protect the environment, ensuring that it is favorable for life and human health (Article 31). Government employees must guard the interests of the country’s citizens and defend their rights and freedoms (Law “On Government Service”, 1999). These provisions are also guaranteed in other legislative acts.


However, government bodies are far from fulfilling their obligations on a regular basis.

In December 2002, ten months after the Ministry of Public Health established Karachaganak’s five-kilometer Sanitary Protection Zone, bureaucrats “by means of qualifying developments, proved the possibility of reducing the normative dimensions of the zone to 1500 meters” (Conclusion…, 24 December 2002).  That is a reduction to less than a third of the original size!  Such a proposal evidently led to outrage on the part of some bureaucrats. Debates ensued, resulting in the 2003 decision to establish a three-kilometer SPZ (Letter No. 2-2-1-35/k/E-16). As such, the village of Berezovka found itself outside the newly established Sanitary Protection Zone.

The bureaucrats were not the least bit embarrassed that the reduction of Karachaganak’s SPZ was implemented in violation of the statutes of the Aarhus Convention and the requirements of Kazakhstan’s environmental protection legislation.  A state environmental assessment was not conducted, the opinion of the residents was not taken into consideration, and the residents were not allowed to participate in the decision-making process (Letter No. 3-2-2-12/2).  The government bodies did not even attempt to justify their illegal actions.  Instead, they announced that KPO was introducing new environmental protection technology and that this was sufficient basis for reducing the SPZ (Mikhailov, 2005; Gubenko, 2005; Letter No. 07-21-8056).

Yet perhaps there is another reason? The relocation of a few thousand people requires significant expense, while the reduction of the SPZ spares both the authorities and the consortium from additional costs.

Nevertheless, the residents of Tungush were relocated as the village remained within the boundaries of the new SPZ (Joint Committee…, 2003). They were moved into an empty high-rise apartment building on the outskirts of Uralsk, and not to a village with 21st century standards, as was earlier promised by the authorities and the consortium (Sokovnin, 2003). This caused great upheaval for many.  People were torn from the land; their whole way of life changed. By way of compensation, they received a meager sum. Later, the District Court recognized this violation of their rights, but it was only after two years time that people received additional funds from the consortium (Akhmedyarov, 2005).

After the reduction of the SPZ, the position of the bureaucrats changed. Earlier they had advocated for the relocation of Berezovka’s residents. At this point in time, they began to make assurances that the emissions of polluted matter from Karachaganak did not exceed the Emission Limits, that the level of illness in the village is the lowest in the region and these illnesses are not related to the development of the Field. Therefore, there is no basis for concern or relocation (Letter No. KE-118/2; Letter No. 1018). As if by magic, when the SPZ was reduced, the problems in the village disappeared.

The residents of Berezovka continued to appeal to the government, Parliament and the President of the country. The responses consisted of familiar phrases: the village is located outside the SPZ boundaries, monitoring results attest to the improvement of environmental conditions, etc. (Letter No. 2-2-1-42/1146; Letter No. 07-21-7830; Letter No. KE-50/1). Even the Republic of Kazakhstan’s Human Rights Representative did not uncover any violations of the rights of Berezovka residents (Letter No. 669/03-1959).

In this increasingly complicated situation, people tried to conduct independent monitoring of environmental conditions and to defend their legal rights, as many did not trust the authorities. One singular form of protest against the bureaucrats was the refusal by 225 Berezovka residents to participate in a comprehensive medical examination in 2004 (Menzhanova, 2006).

The authorities obviously did not appreciate this lack of cooperation and persistent reluctance to come to a compromise. They began to put pressure on activists from the local Initiative Group. The police and district Akimat tried to disrupt a seminar on protecting human rights, organized by nongovernmental organizations. This nearly led to conflict between some of the residents and the police, who openly hindered them from giving blood for independent analysis (Akhmedyarov, 2004; Appeal, 2005).

However, at the end of 2005 the situation changed again. In November 2005, the Uralsk City Public Prosecutor for Environmental Protection and the Public Prosecutor of Burlinsky Raion tested KPO’s compliance with sanitary/epidemiological requirements. They came to the conclusion that there was no basis for the reduction of the SPZ and that, as in the past, the residents of Berezovka were at risk (Kalashnikova, 2005). These results were given to the Public Prosecutor of West Kazakhstan Oblast, who sent them to the General Public Prosecutor. On March 27, 2006, the General Public Prosecutor objected to the conclusion issued by the Senior Sanitary Doctor, which served as the basis for the reduction of the SPZ, recognizing the conclusion as illegal (Letter No. 7-21-06).

In April 2006, the Ministry of Public Health suspended the conclusion and decided to create a commission to research the air in population centers and the basis for the size of the SPZ. In particular, the commission established that atmospheric emissions of polluted matter were significantly greater in 2004-05 than in 2002!  The Ministry gave the following explanation for this phenomenon: “The increase in the volume of emissions is connected to the introduction of new technology and exploratory adjustment work on the technological lines” of KPO. However, the Ministry did not find substantial reasons for the change in the size of the SPZ, though it acknowledged that the introduction of new technology is connected to “risks of emergency situations”. Thus, the Ministry proposed that an independent assessment be conducted to determine the “definitive basis for the size of the Sanitary Protection Zone” (Letter No. 07-21-6887).

We are not calling into question the objectivity of the conclusions made by the Ministry of Public Health’s commission. Yet it is not clear why the Ministry’s specialists did not verify the legality of the established SPZ boundaries, but instead conducted another atmospheric study. They should know that the minimum SPZ boundaries for gas extraction enterprises with a high concentration of hydrogen sulfide are already established by “Sanitary Norms of Planning Industrial Enterprises” No.1.01.001-94 at no less than 5000 meters.

At the same time, the Ministry of Environmental Protection changed its position with regard to this problem. As in 2002, it supported the idea of relocation (www.kz-today.kz, 17 May 2006). In contrast to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Oblast Environmental Protection Administration sided with the consortium, asserting that there is no hazardous pollution in Berezovka (Akhmedyarov, 2006).

In this case, members of Parliament did not rise to the occasion. Only one Deputy from the Mazhilis continues to actively support the residents in the resolution of their questions (Zhamalov, 2006).

KPO’s position on relocation

In one way or another, all of the companies that comprise KPO make statements about the necessity of observing human rights (BG Group, 13 June 2006).  As advocates of responsible business, they are obliged to conduct their activities with respect to the rights of local communities and in a manner that protects the environment (ENI, 13 June 2006). For instance, in early 2006, Chevron published a document in which it stated its intention to conduct operations in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Chevron, 13 June 2006). The Russian company LUKOIL considers one of its priorities to protect the health of populations living in the areas in which it operates, as well as to protect a healthy natural environment (LUKOIL’s…, 14 June 2006).

However, the companies’ grand statements are often inconsistent with their actions. The companies violate not only their own principles, but also the provisions of national legislation and international agreements.

Officially, KPO is not against the relocation of the residents from the Sanitary Protection Zone. However, after the reduction of the SPZ’s boundaries, the village of Berezovka found itself outside its boundaries, therefore creating the appearance that the consortium is not violating any laws. Yet it is worth remembering that one of the official reasons for the reduction of the SPZ was the introduction of “technology to reduce air pollution” at the Field and beyond.  Specialists from the authorized government bodies did not verify the effectiveness of this technology. Yet this work was conducted, under commission by KPO, by the public company “Kompaniya Kenesary”, the public company “EcoProekt”, the public company “Ekogidroanalitik”, the public company  Informational/Production Center “Kazgidromet”, and the public company “AktyubNIGRI” (Letter No. 07-21-8056). This did not prevent government bodies from reducing the size of the SPZ in 2003 in violation of “Sanitary Norms of Planning Industrial Enterprises” No.1.01.001-94.

Yet whether or not the air pollution around the Field was in fact reduced remains an unanswered question as monitoring is conducted in violation of Articles 24 and 25 of the law “On Environmental Protection”. According to the requirements of these articles, government monitoring of the environment, including on the territory of population centers, must be conducted by authorized bodies in the field of environmental protection.

In 1998, due to a lack of resources, the government stations that monitored “Kazgidromet” were closed in West Kazakhstan Oblast. At the same time, in violation of Kazakhstan’s environmental legislation, KPO and a number of other major natural resource users began to finance “Kazgidromet’s” services. This calls into question the objectivity of the data obtained by “Kazgidromet” (Informational Ecological Bulletin, 1999, p.22; Yeslyamova, 2000).

For its part, aside from conducting industrial monitoring, KPO created air quality observation stations in the ten nearest towns (Letter No. VD/Out/02362).  In fact, the “company took upon itself uncharacteristic functions—monitoring environmental pollution in the population points located beyond the boundaries of the contract territory and the established Sanitary Protection Zone” (Skakov, 2005).

The consortium signed a contract with the private venture “Gidromet Ltd.” to conduct industrial monitoring for KPO, the results of which are provided to government environmental protection bodies on a regular basis (Burlinsky Vesti, 28 December 2004; Zhusupkaliev, 2006). At present, KPO and Tengizchevroil are the primary customers of “Gidromet Ltd.”

However, the General Public Prosecutor recognized even in 2002 that a violation had occurred, given that data from private enterprises that conducted industrial monitoring were used for the preparation of “government monitoring conclusions” (Atyrau City Court Decision, 2000).

Evidently, such remarkable “flexibility” in monitoring enabled KPO’s leadership to announce that the concentration of harmful matter in the air around the Karachaganak Field is a result of the local population’s use of heating stoves (Sokovnin, 2003).

KPO’s introduction of new technology, without having obtained a positive government environmental assessment, is yet another gross violation of Kazakhstan’s environmental protection legislation (Letter No. 3-2-2-12/2).  Yet this is precisely how the SPZ was reduced in 2003.  And this led to an increase in pollutant emissions into the air in 2003-2005 (Letter No. 03-01-01-10/8182). By early 2005, emissions had increased more than twice the 2002 level (Letter No. 07-21-6887).

Violations also took place of Articles 15 and 36 of the law “On Environmental Assessment”, which concern the necessity of taking public opinion into consideration during decision-making processes. Moreover, there were violations of the provisions of six articles to the Aarhus Convention on public participation in decision-making processes.

It is incomprehensible how this is reconciled with the socially responsible business behavior of which KPO proclaims itself a supporter!

It is not surprising that to the question of what responsibility the company has to the residents of Berezovka in the event of an accident at the Field, a representative of the nongovernmental organization Crude Accountability received the following answer from KPO’s leadership: “Only moral [responsibility]…” (Akhmedyarov, 2004).

The IFC

It is worth remembering still another player that has substantial influence on the course of events in the village of Berezovka. This player is the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which is part of the World Bank Group. Its mission is to promote sustainable private sector investment in developing countries, helping to reduce poverty and improve people’s lives. The IFC acknowledges that the observation of human rights is becoming an increasingly important aspect of corporate responsibility (IFC, 2006, p.2).

Based on these principles, in 1999 the IFC created the Office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) to review complaints about projects financed by the IFC.  For instance, in 2002 the IFC gave LUKOIL a $150 million loan for development of the Karachaganak Field.  The CAO is independent from the IFC management and reports directly to the President of the World Bank (www.cao-ombudsman.org), which allows it to provide an objective review of complaints.

Having learned of this office, the residents of Berezovka who had been unsuccessfully trying to defend their rights for several years, decided in September 2004 to appeal to the Office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman with a complaint.  Several problems caused by the development of the Field were raised in the complaint: the pollution of the environment, lower quality of drinking water, declining health of the population and the deterioration of the population’s material well-being. Nevertheless, as a result of the unfounded reduction of the SPZ, the village residents were not relocated outside of this dangerous zone.

The CAO promptly reacted to the complaint, and in December of that year its representatives visited Berezovka. They met with local residents and the consortium’s leadership.  In April 2005, a report was published with the results of the complaint review.

According to the Assessment Report, KPO is operating in compliance with the IFC’s standards. The environmental problems that were brought to light during the review are explained by the “legacy of poor environmental standards and practices from previous field owners” (CAO Assessment Report, 2005, p. 9).  The Assessment Report also stresses that due to a lack of quality information, it is not possible to determine how the oil extraction is impacting the population’s health.  Attempts to more carefully examine this issue were unsuccessful. The consortium did not provide the CAO with all of the materials from the studies conducted by the Kenesary Centre of Preventative Medicine (Almaty). In 2001, KPO commissioned the Centre to study the health status of the population living in the immediate proximity of the field.

The CAO pointed out KPO’s insufficient transparency concerning its activities and, for all intents and purposes, acknowledged the consortium’s violation of the right of local residents of access to information. The general public was not made familiar with the results of the medical studies or with the basis for changing the size of the SPZ (CAO Assessment report, 2005, p.11,19). Therefore, the report recommends that KPO conduct regular consultations with the public, provide free access to the results of the studies conducted by the Kenesary Centre, and reconsider the practice of concealing environmental information (CAO Assessment Report, 2005, p. 12).

However, the fundamental problem—the violation of the rights of Berezovka residents to live in a healthy environment—is not raised in the Assessment Report. The legality of the SPZ reduction was not analyzed (CAO Assessment Report, 2005, p. 17).  Despite the fact that representatives from the CAO’s office paid attention to the Berezovka residents’ complaint and tried to find a compromise, the IFC has, in fact, risen to the defense of the consortium’s interests.

In February 2006, representatives from the CAO’s office again visited the Karachaganak Field in order to check on the implementation of the Assessment Report’s recommendations. One of the areas under consideration was the progress of the village councils, which were created to provide KPO and the public with a forum through which to discuss problems. They noted KPO’s initiative regarding interaction with the village councils as a positive factor in the interaction between the consortium and local residents (CAO Progress Report, 2006, p. 2). However, the members of the Berezovka Initiative Group reacted coolly to the consortium’s proposals, though they acknowledged that the proposals were a step forward. Many of the residents do not trust the village councils since their members were not elected, but appointed by the local akims. There is also no trust in the initiatives that KPO has begun to implement following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with local authorities in August 2005 (CAO Progress Report, 2006, p. 7-8).

Another positive factor noted by the CAO representatives is KPO’s proposal to conduct air quality monitoring with the participation of all interested parties (CAO Progress Report, 2006, p. 3). The Berezovka residents also declined to participate in this program, despite the insistent recommendations of the representatives from the CAO’s office (Letter, 26 June 2006).

First of all, there are doubts as to the legal status of this initiative. There are no provisions in the legislation of Kazakhstan regarding independent monitoring.  Organizations that conduct monitoring must have official permission; otherwise government bodies may not pay attention to their results.

Secondly, KPO is trying to avoid a legal resolution of the problem, all the while trying to maintain its image as a law-abiding enterprise, which is increasingly expensive to do. At the same time, it is as if the consortium has not noticed that the illegality of the SPZ reduction has been repeatedly acknowledged by government representatives. One gets the impression that the policy of keeping quiet is at the hands of both the consortium and the IFC. In addition to Berezovka, there are other villages near the Field; therefore it is disadvantageous for KPO to create precedent in terms of relocation.

Thirdly, all of the proposed measures create the semblance of resolving problems, while in fact indefinitely delaying the relocation of the villagers from this dangerous zone.

Press coverage of the relocation question

This account would not be complete without mention of the position of the journalists who are covering the events in Berezovka.  They are divided into two groups. The majority are those who react sympathetically to changes in official opinion. Those who try to be objective, unfortunately, are in the minority.

On January 11, 2002, there was an article in one of the central newspapers, “Kazakhstanskaya Pravda”, about the consortium’s violation of the country’s environmental protection legislation, and the need to relocate the residents of Berezovka and Tungush (Korina, 2002).  Following the reduction of the SPZ, Berezovka residents began to actively defend their rights, and they were supported by several nongovernmental organizations. This was not expected by the authorities.  In January 2005, the very same newspaper began to regard the legal demands of the Berezovka residents as a “suitcase mentality” or a desire to get rich at the expense of the government and consortium.  The newspaper stated that the Berezovka residents had been falsely roused by “guests” from “countries near and far” (Korina, 2005).  The very same author wrote both articles!

The signals from above were heard, and the persecution of Berezovka residents and the public organizations that support them was taken up by a number of journalists.

The “vigilant” journalists wrote about everything other than the violation of human rights in Berezovka! The disgraceful “Berezovka idyll” — local and foreign public organizations — aim to “excite the public, to influence the public against its own government.” Therefore, “the environmental problem of the residents of Berezovka threatens to develop into a major political conflict”. Today they “dwell in small villages. Tomorrow the line might reach to the big cities where orange or rose revolutions will occur” (Kenzhegalieva, 2006).

So that the average citizen would know who “undermines” the foundations of the sovereign government, the names and passport information of foreign citizens representing the public organizations were published (Burlinsky Vesti, 28 December 2004).

The residents and NGOs were accused of trying “to spoil KPO’s image, to provoke conflict between the government and foreign investors, to introduce dissention into their constructive, partnership relations”. The result is a “puppet theater in which the strings are being pulled somewhere offstage, and yet a movement is being created in Berezovka” (Zhusupkaliev, 2006).

There is no doubt that the “sham” of local residents and the NGOs is well paid. “The Initiative Group has the support of wealthy sponsors and does not take money into consideration” (Alekseev, 2006).

The “vigilant” journalists have written about everything other than the violations of the rights of Berezovka residents due to illegal acts by the authorities and KPO.

It is noteworthy that the majority of the aforementioned articles have been published on KPO’s website (www.kpo.kz, 25 May 2006).

Fortunately, not everyone is under the reigns of the authorities and the consortium. It is worth noting the position of the journalists from the local newspaper “Uralskaya Nedelya”, who strive to objectively and consistently cover the situation in Berezovka.

It is also worth mentioning the authorities’ relationship foreign journalists. For instance, the well-known BBC television station commissioned a film about the confrontation between the Berezovka residents and the consortium. The film was shown in Europe on the BBC World Channel, but in Kazakhstan only those who participated in the filming have any knowledge of its existence.

Democratic weeds

Five years have passed since the Berezovka residents began the struggle for their rights.  Unfortunately, during this time nothing has changed for the better.  Every day people feel the “toxic breathing” of Karachaganak, the authorities pretend that nothing is happening, and the consortium cares only about its profits.

This is not surprising. The situation in Berezovka reflects the typical problems faced by numerous Kazakhstanis living close to major extraction enterprises belonging to domestic and foreign companies. The picture is one and the same in Balkhash, Temirtau, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Ridder and other cities.

The authorized ministries and departments do not display particular zeal in fulfilling their official obligations. They do not follow the letter of the law, but are oriented instead toward internal political conditions and relationships of the establishment with foreign companies. Even in those situations in which government bodies act as champions of the law and defend the interests of citizens, there is a lack of trust in their actions. This gives rise to well-founded fears that sincere intentions are being concealed for populist demagogy about human rights and the need to protect nature. In fact, the purpose of these government departments is to apply pressure to the companies in order to obtain additional profit and concessions. This explains the inconsistency in the actions of the government bodies described above.

Foreign companies, backed quietly by the government of Kazakhstan, treat the people of this country as they see fit. If it is possible to ignore the country’s legislation and international conventions, taking refuge in “special” relations with the leadership of Kazakhstan, why not!

Announcements by companies about their adherence to the principles of socially responsible business are increasingly at odds with their actions.  Even in those cases in which the companies provide social assistance, it does not change their position. In Berezovka, a series of measures — gasification, and capital reconstruction of the village’s water system, school and cultural center — have been undertaken with the money provided annually by KPO as a stipulation in its contract (www.kpo.kz, 7 September 2006). However, Berezovka residents do not feel gratitude towards KPO and the local authorities as the quality of this work has garnered much criticism. The reconstruction of the water line in Berezovka is still not finished.  Following the construction of a new dam on the local river, the water has disappeared. The repairs in the village school and cultural center are atrocious (Akhmedyarov, 2006).

The Berezovka residents are developing the impression that this assistance is necessary only in order to demonstrate KPO’s involvement in the resolution of village problems. The consortium is not interested in the fate of the people. Wouldn’t it be better to use these millions of dollars to relocate the residents of Berezovka!?

The loss of human life and the resulting strike at the Mittal Steel enterprises in Temirtau in the fall of 2006 demonstrated that neither “leading businesses” nor “wise authorities” are insured against accidents caused by human error or social upheaval. So who wins as the toxic cloud over Berezovka grows heavier? And what is to be done by people living in a country with a thriving oil democracy?


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Sergey Solyanik

the Ecological Society Green Salvation
Almaty, Kazakhstan
12.2006