ASTANA, April 7 (Reuters) – Output at Kazakhstan's huge Kashagan oilfield may fail to restart this year if test results expected in May show cracks in the offshore part of its pipeline network, Kazakh Oil and Gas Minister Uzakbai Karabalin said on Monday.
Kazakhstan, Central Asia's largest economy and the second-largest post-Soviet oil producer after Russia, is pinning hopes for future prosperity on Kashagan, whose recoverable reserves are estimated at 9 billion to 13 billion barrels of oil.
Production at the offshore deposit, the world's biggest oil find in 35 years, started in September but halted in early October after the detection of gas leaks in the $50 billion project's pipeline network.
Asked when output could be restarted, Karabalin said: "It's impossible to say anything right now ... because suspicions have emerged that there may be microcracks in the offshore stretch of the pipeline as well."
He said closer checks of "possible risks offshore" were hampered by ice melting in the shallow Caspian Sea. These checks must be completed in late May, he said.
"Then it will be clear whether there are cracks in the offshore part of the pipeline network. If they really are there, this would lengthen the duration of previously planned work.
"Contractors have various scenarios - the easiest one is if it's just onshore. In this case, this can be mended and then, probably, it (output) will be this year."
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