As temperatures in northern Kazakhstan drop to well below freezing, the Republic prepares itself for what promises to be another harsh winter. Indeed, the Deputy Head of the northern Kostanay oblast announced that the situation in the Republic is catastrophic and that Akmola had "only just avoided an energy crisis." (Express-K, November 25; Panorama, November 28) In Southern Kazakhstan, meanwhile, gas supplies have for four years not reached some regions, including the town of Kentau, where demonstrations took place recently. People nevertheless get by; they procure gas cylinders through other channels, cook in large fire-lit containers in the streets, and turn to electricity when it is available as an alternative supply.
Currently, the only export line for gas is northwards from the Karachaganak field in Kazakhstan’s Western region of Uralsk to Orenburg. The South of the country has been able in the first few years of independence to acquire Uzbek gas by swapping revenue from tariffs it charges for transit gas which passes its territory from Turkmenistan to Ukraine. Much of the local press is currently presenting the problem of gas shortages inaccurately by contending that the Turkmens have cut off supplies. The cause is rather a standoff between Turkmenistan and Ukraine, together with tariff demands exacted by the second transit country, Russia. The upshot is that the Belgian company "Tractorbell," which has been the target of recriminations ever since the Kazakhstani government was criticized for having sold the Almaty power station to it for a low price, has been unable to gather together adequate winter gas reserves. Tractorbell has been forced to buy at half the cost from Russia, and these supplies are also feeding the northern regions.
With the successful signing of the Karachaganak agreement in Washington two weeks ago, the 16-18 trillion cubic feet of recoverable reserves in this gas condensate field will provide ample supplies for domestic demand. However, until pipelines are built to finance CPC liquids, and until domestic consumers are able to pay for that gas, no domestic gas pipelines will be built. Private and public consumers, increasingly unable to pay, are simply cut off. One response has been for heads of local administrations to put pressure on companies to deduct payments of individuals’ gas bills from their salaries. However, many of these local leaders have come to realize that they are no longer able to exercise that sort of authority. They have, however, put pressure on local electricity suppliers, where those do exist, to continue to supply the region even if so doing means overuse of already overpressurized grid systems.(Express-K, November 25)
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