In the Caspian Sea’s choppy waters off western Kazakhstan’s coast, D-Day is approaching on a man-made mound called D Island. It is the nerve center of the Kashagan field, the world’s biggest oil discovery in decades.
D Island -- a futuristic splash of fluorescent orange and gleaming silver set against the Caspian’s blue-gray waters -- is now gearing up for the historic day when it will start pumping oil. For energy conglomerates wishing to cash in on their investments, and for President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration, waiting eagerly -- and not always patiently -- to reap the benefits of the oil bonanza 70 kilometers off Kazakhstan’s coast, the oil cannot start flowing a moment too soon.
That landmark is expected to arrive in 2013 -- eight years behind the optimistic schedule first set by the oilmen of Kashagan. The field, discovered in 2000, represented the most spectacular oil strike since Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay in 1969. Elated by the find, developers were initially blind to the logistical challenges Kashagan would throw at them -- and the ballooning costs and slipping production schedules that would enrage Astana.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.