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In thirteen years, they've spent $50 billion to reach a so-called supergiant oil field where sour crude is mixed with toxic gas. In industry circles, Kashagan has become a watchword for massive complexity and near impossibility, and adopted an unofficial motto: "cash all gone."

The latest problem appeared literally on the horizon, two weeks after Kashagan finally began pumping oil on September 11. Workers spotted a brown haze emanating from the water above one of the pipelines that carries gas to offshore processing and storage facilities.

This was one of the project's worst fears: a leak of hydrogen sulfide, or H2S, a toxic gas that's often mixed with oil. This sour gas, 4,200 meters below the seabed at extremely high pressure, with around 17% H2S, some of the highest concentrations ever encountered. Hydrogen sulfide doesn't just chew through metal: breathing it can kill a person in less than a minute. (Gas masks are a required accessory for the thousands of workers at Kashagan.)

"Kashagan will not be the figurative iceberg that sinks any super-majors," Motley Fool wrote, "but it does symbolize a future with higher costs, greater difficulty, and different players."

With heavy investment, some researchers insist that renewables can be the world's biggest source of power by 2050. Even Shell has recently determined that solar will win out over oil—but not until sometime around 2100.

The lessons of Kashagan aren't just about the extreme costs of digging up and burning carbon when energy alternatives are waiting to be developed. They're about the increasing difficulty of extracting oil, and the technological complexity that comes along with it. As systems become larger, even the smallest, dumbest error can have widespread effects. (Consider the recent widespread problem with GM's ignition switches, which resulted in thirteen deaths, even if it involved an error of only 1.1 millimeters.) People familiar with Kashagan have expressed amazement that a project so complex could be derailed by a simple matter of plumbing.

http://motherboard.vice.com/read/kashagan-the-worlds-most-toxic-money-pit

I wonder how much the cleanup costs will be when this thing finally gets underway and the inevitable happens.
 
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