A slow-motion ecological calamity is unfolding at Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan. An underground plume of refined oil products – the result of a spill back in the 1990s – is migrating toward the lake and, today, it’s only a few meters away from hitting water.
During the Soviet era, a diesel and benzene storage depot sat in Balykchy, a once-bustling railhead at the western tip of Issyk-Kul that has succumbed to industrial blight over the past two decades. Following Communism’s demise, the depot’s infrastructure quickly decayed, and at some point in the mid-1990s oil products started seeping into the ground. Experts believe that nearly 600 tons of oil products, or the equivalent of roughly 4,400 barrels, have contaminated an area roughly one hectare in size, situated not far from the shore. Due to a lack of records, environmentalists studying the problem say, it is impossible to find out who was responsible for the spill, and when exactly it started.
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Asel Kalybekova is a reporter based in Kyrgyzstan.