The Caspian Sea: Rich in oil and gas and caviar

Kuwait Times - - Business -

AK­TAU, Kaza­khstan: The lead­ers of Azer­bai­jan, Iran, Kaza­khstan, Rus­sia and Turk­menistan are meet­ing in the Kazakh port city of Ak­tau on Sun­day to sign a land­mark deal on the Caspian Sea. Here are some facts about the in­land sea whose le­gal sta­tus has been the sub­ject of fraught ne­go­ti­a­tions for over two decades since the Soviet Union’s col­lapse.

Vast in­land sea

The Caspian is the largest in­land body of wa­ter in the world. With around 70,000 cu­bic kilo­me­ters (16,800 cu­bic miles) of wa­ter, it is big­ger by vol­ume than both the North and Baltic seas. The re­gion’s coun­tries have long dis­puted whether the Caspian is a sea or a lake, which car­ries le­gal con­se­quences. No rivers flow out of it and it is sur­rounded by land which means it is tech­ni­cally closer to be­ing a lake. The new draft agree­ment calls it a sea while Rus­sia said the pro­vi­sions give it a spe­cial le­gal sta­tus.


One of the rea­sons the Caspian has been con­tested so fiercely by the five lit­toral states is its abun­dance of hy­dro­car­bon re­serves. Ac­cord­ing to the US En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s lat­est es­ti­mate in 2012 there were 48 bil­lion bar­rels of oil and 292 tril­lion cu­bic feet (8.3 tril­lion cu­bic me­ters) of nat­u­ral gas in proved and prob­a­ble re­serves in the Caspian Sea’s basins and its sur­round­ing area.

The Caspian’s largest oil field, Kaza­khstan’s Kasha­gan, has 13 bil­lion bar­rels of re­cov­er­able re­serves and is the big­gest off­shore oil and gas find since it was dis­cov­ered in 2000. Ex­tract­ing the hy­dro­car­bons from the wa­ter and on to the mar­ket has not al­ways been easy though, and de­lays to the Kasha­gan project have led to it be­ing nick­named “cash all gone”.

Costliest caviar

As home to the world’s largest stocks of the giant Bel­uga stur­geon fish, the Caspian is also an im­por­tant source of one of the world’s prici­est del­i­ca­cies-caviar. The most ex­pen­sive Caspian caviar comes from the eggs of the rare al­bino stur­geon found in its south­ern wa­ters, but en­vi­ron­men­tal cam­paign­ers warn that stur­geon stocks are be­ing over­fished, and hope the new agree­ment will boost preser­va­tion ef­forts. Ac­cord­ing to Guin­ness World Records, a kilo­gram of the costliest caviar from al­bino stur­geon off the coast of Iran reg­u­larly fetches over $25,000. —

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