The above shows Kazakh oil production (red, left scale) and the ratio of Kazakh proved oil reserves to annual production (blue, right scale). Why do we care all of a sudden, you ask? Well:
About 50 people fought police on Saturday in the town of Shetpe, 60 miles north of Zhanaozen, where fighting first broke out. A train, cars and shops were all set alight before armed police were able to regain control.Steve LeVine suggests thinking of the events in relationship to the Arab Spring:
A statement from Kazakhstan’s Prosecutor-General on Sunday suggested that police shot at the protesters.
“As the actions of the hooligans were a threat to life and safety of peaceful civilians and the policemen, the police were forced to use their weapons,” the statement said.
“According to preliminary data, the Mangistau regional hospital received 12 people with gunshot wounds, one of whom has died.”
At least 12 people have now died in fighting in western Kazakhstan which started in the town of Zhanaoz en on Friday when sacked oil workers fought police in the main square. Independent sources, though, have said that the death toll is higher.
A short video that has circulated, plus strong reporting primarily by RFE-RL, reveal the stuff of a tinderbox: In May, hundreds of oil workers in Zhanaozen went on strike over pay and other grievances, and many took up a peaceful vigil in the city's main square. Last weekend, Kazakhstan prepared to celebrate the 20th anniversary of independence with enormous celebrations across the country, and Zhanaozen officials set up a stage and yurts in the square. But this display in their place of protest did not sit well with the strikers.Thus I wanted to look up the basic facts of Kazakh oil production:
On Friday, highly militant elements -- perhaps part of the oil strike, perhaps not -- went on a spree of violence in which they threw speakers from a stage onto the ground in the main square, set them on fire, and overturned and set a van aflame. They marched through the town, setting buildings aflame, including the mayor's office, the big local oil company and the local headquarters of Nur Otan, the ruling political party, reports Pete Leonard of the Associated Press. At some point, police opened fire. In all, 14 people died, most or all of them oil workers. Sympathy protests broke out the following day in the nearby port city of Aktau and -- far away in eastern Kazakhstan -- in the business capital of Almaty. Northwest of Zhanaozen, police again opened fire when a mob numbering about 50 set fire to a locomotive in Shetbe, and broke windows during a demonstration. One person was killed.
The government responded this way: It almost instantly shut down Twitter and Facebook across the country. In Zhanaozen itself, it blocked the Internet and telephones, then surrounded the city with a police cordon, preventing anyone from entering or leaving. Hours later, the Twitter and Facebook feeds were unblocked in most of the country. But as of this writing, Zhanaozen itself remains shut off to the world until Jan. 5 by order of Nazarbayev.
Here is the main manifestation of the Arab Spring in Kazakhstan: Not in the uprising, but the government's first line of attack -- social media, the famous channel of the Arab Spring.
Note that the level of production is about 1.8mbd in 2010 - a little larger than pre-crisis Libya (1.6mbd). Production has been growing rapidly for a decade. Also worthy of note is the very high R/P ratio of over 60. For comparison, the R/P in the United States for the last forty years has fluctuated between 8 and 12. Thus Kazakhstan could continue to expand production several-fold before reaching the level of maturity and depletion in the US basins.
So we are reminded again that continued western prosperity depends, via the oil markets, on the stability of all manner of far-off less-then-well-governed lands. The last thing the global economy needs now is another oil shock, but are we really to root for the government of Nursultan Nazarbayev?
Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev (born 6 July 1940) has served as the President of Kazakhstan since the nation's independence in 1991 from the Soviet Union. In April 2011, President Nazarbayev was reelected to another five-year term receiving 95.54 percent of the vote with 89.9 percent of registered voters participating (up from 76.8 percent in the 2005 presidential election).