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President of oil-rich Kazakhstan resigns, sparking uncertainty

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London — Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, Tuesday announced his resignation after nearly 30 years at the helm of the Central Asian country, raising questions about the potential impact on the domestic economy and regional geopolitics as well as on oil and gas.

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Kazakhstan, a major oil producer and exporter with output of around 1.9 million b/d, is part of the OPEC/non-OPEC production cut agreement led by Saudi Arabia and Russia. Over the weekend, Kazakhstan joined the alliance's monitoring committee at its latest meeting in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku.

Kazakhstan's proved crude oil reserves are estimated at 30 billion barrels as of January 2018, "the second largest endowment in Eurasia and Russia, and the 12th largest in the world, just behind the United States," according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Kazakhstan oil fields and pipelines

The country's production rose by 4.8% year on year in 2018, mainly due to the giant Kashagan oil field coming on line, with the bulk of the country's output coming from three fields. Tengiz and Karachaganak are the other two fields. All three projects are being developed by international consortiums.

As a result, exports of CPC -- a key Kazakh export blend -- from the Russian port of Novorossiisk rose 11% on the year to hit a record high of 61.08 million mt in 2018, equivalent to an average 1.32 million b/d, with December flows rising to 1.52 million b/d.

Last year, the authorities approved changes to the country's taxation regime to attract fresh investment into oil and gas exploration as many old fields have been depleted.

The move has already brought some results as state-run KazMunaiGaz reached new agreements with Russian Lukoil, Rosneft and Italy's Eni earlier this year, energy minister Kanat Bozumbayev said earlier this month.

Kazakhstan's oil and gas reserves have a huge potential, "ten times more than those discovered," with the authorities preparing a major exploration program, Bozumbayev said.

Nazarbayev did not provide any reason for his resignation.

"I have taken the difficult decision to lay down the responsibilities of president of the Republic of Kazakhstan. I will have been in power for 30 years this year," he said in a televised address to the nation.

Nazarbayev became leader of the then Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan in 1989, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and was then elected president after independence in 1990. Senate Speaker Kosym-Zhomart Tokayev is to be acting president, Nazarbayev said.

The surprise announcement came less than a month after Nazarbayev dismissed his government for failures in securing economic growth and improving living standards.

Bozumbayev, however, retained his position.

Output commitments

On Sunday, Bozumbayev reiterated his country's commitment to the OPEC/non-OPEC deal.

Kazakhstan's liquids production is to fall below its quota in March, April and May because of planned maintenance at the Kashagan field, he said. Another major field, Tengiz, is also to undergo maintenance in the coming months.

Kazakhstan committed to reduce its output to 1.86 million b/d as part of the OPEC-led deal. Output was 1.893 million b/d in February but should average 1.82 million b/d in March and fall below 1.8 million b/d in April, Bozumbayev said.

Kazakhstan is also a major gas producer, though most of its output is associated gas. According to data from the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, in which Kazakhstan has observer status, gross Kazakh gas production in 2017 was 46.9 Bcm. Of that, 22 Bcm was marketed for domestic use and exports, with the remainder used for re-injection for oil recovery.

Its gas exports are around 13.5 Bcm, with some 5 Bcm going to China. This volume is set to double to 10 Bcm this year. Its domestic gas demand is around 14 Bcm, with the balance met by imports of gas from Russia's Gazprom. Kazakhstan's gas reserves are some 1.9 Tcm, according to the GECF.

-- Nadia Rodova, nadia.rodova@spglobal.com

-- Stuart Elliott, stuart.elliott@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Jonathan Dart, newsdesk@spglobal.com

Building bridges: Energy and commodities in the construction sector

S&P Global Platts explores some of the factors driving construction markets and how developments in commodities such as oil, gas and steel play a key role in determining whether projects get built, and how much they may cost to develop.

Download the report