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Kazak drilling pause

January 14, 2000, 08:00 CET

Exploration drilling off Kazakstan in the northern Caspian will be suspended in late January to avoid problems with the harsh winter climate.

The first wildcat in these waters was spudded last August by the Offshore Kazakstan International Operating Company (Okioc), and should have been completed before the New Year.

However, initial delays and technical problems with the rig mean that this work cannot be finished until the summer.

The rig will then be immediately moved to a new site, so that a second exploration well can be completed before the ice returns.

According to Statoil representative Per Einar Rettedal, who chairs the Okioc management committee, the drilling pause is likely to last until March.

The exact length of the break depends on ice conditions. Although the edge of the ice is currently 10-15 kilometres north of the drilling site, it is fast approaching.

Temperatures in the area can fall as low as -40°C, and the shallow water around the rig – just three-four metres deep – will be quick to freeze.

"Possible critical conditions are easier to handle in open water than from a rig frozen into the ice," says Mr Rettedal. "So we've opted to put safety before financial considerations."

Okioc has secured two specially-built icebreakers which can also be used as supply ships, but even these would be unable to keep a channel open during the coldest period.

The consortium is hoping to make a major oil discovery in the Kashagan structure.

Statoil has a 4.8 per cent interest in Okioc. Its partners are Agip, with 14.3 per cent, British Gas 14.3, Shell 14.3, TotalFinaElf 14.3, ExxonMobil 14.3, BP Amoco 9.5, Inpex 7.1 and Phillips 7.1.