The Sour Gas Eating Kashagan Oil Profits

Others rejected this explanation, saying the pipes are designed for just such exposure.

Doubt was also thrown on whether the welds could be the trouble. Unlike the reservoir itself, which is at very high pressure, the gas that comes off the crude as it reaches the surface is carried at low pressure to the processing plant.

Whatever the cause, a shutdown for a leak just two weeks after startup on Sept. 11 was followed by a second leak and interruption in October, backing the view expressed by the head of one project partner Total this week when he said: "It's more than just repairing pipes."

Corrosion expert Liane Smith said one immediate reaction would be to blame the welds, "but when you get two leaks in two different places as appears to be the case at Kashagan it means there's almost definitely a bigger, more fundamental problem".

Smith, who is managing director of oil services company Wood Group's asset integrity division Wood Group Intetech, also said that from what she knows of the project, it used the right specifications for the job.

"Every corrosion engineer would have looked at that design and, hand on heart, have said it should be fine," she said.

Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp, said it was a supplier of pipe to Kashagan but would not comment further. It was not clear whether there were other suppliers, or whether the Japanese group supplied the pipe sections where the leaks occurred.


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