Kazakhstan: Mining, Minerals and Fuel Resources

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Kazakhstan has abundant fossil fuel reserves and vast deposits of minerals and metals including uranium, zinc, and, copper. The country’s economy relies heavily on its oil and mining industries. Almost 89% of Kazakhstan’s exports are attributed to mineral commodities.

Welcome to Kazakhstan

The Republic of Kazakhstan is the ninth-largest country in the world, with a total area of 2,724,900 km2. Located in Central Asia to the northwest of China, Kazakhstan’s population in 2017 was estimated at approximately 18.04 million. Kazakhstan has a continental arid and semiarid climate.

Previously, Kazakhstan had been a part of the Soviet Republic until 1991 when it gained its independence. The country’s economy is the largest among the Central Asian countries in both absolute and per capita, which is largely attributed to its abundant natural resources. In 2018 alone, Kazakhstan exported approximately $61 billion USD worth of goods globally.

In 2018, Kazakhstan’s GDP was estimated at a total of $170.4 billion, which is approximately 0.28% of the world’s economy. Despite recent economic downfalls that Kazakhstan experienced from 2013 to 2016, the nation has been experiencing a consistent upward trend, providing stability to its economy from the rising prices of mineral commodities and oil.

Overview of Resources

Kazakhstan is home to a diverse range of natural resources. In 2018, the top exports of Kazakhstan included mineral fuels, particularly oil, iron and steel, copper, inorganic chemicals and, ores.

Globally, Kazakhstan is:

  • A leading producer of uranium, accounting for 39% of the world’s output in 2016
  • The second-largest producer of chromium, with a total of 5.4 million tons produced in 2017
  • Significant producer of titanium, cadmium, rhenium and, magnesium in the world
  • The tenth-largest producer of copper

The country also has a significant amount of copper, bauxite, zinc, slag, ash, precious metals and gallium. Approximately 60% of Kazakhstan’s earnings come from the exportation of mineral fuels, whereas about 22% is attributed to the production of hard minerals and metals.

Industrial Minerals

Asbestos of all grades is produced in Kazakhstan, along with several other industrial minerals such as barite, cement and, gypsum.

Metals

Kazakhstan has about 4% of the world’s gold deposits. As of December 2018, Kazakhstan reported a total gold production of approximately 85,000 kg. JSC Altyntau Resources, Kazakhstan’s top gold producer, employs more than 4,200 people in the gold mining and production industry. Tau-Ken Samruk, a state-owned mining company, plans to operate a new $38 million refinery in the capital city of Astana. The refinery is designed to be able to refine 25 tons of gold per year.

The Eurasian Resources Group (ERG), which was previously known as the Eurasian Natural Resources Corp. plc (ENRC), is one of Kazakhstan’s top chromite producers, accounting for 3,574,000 tons in 2010. ERG also employs ferrochrome, aluminum, iron ore and, energy operations throughout Kazakhstan. Despite ERG’s historically successful reputation in Kazakhstan, it has recently sold several assets to pay off its debt that is approximately $5.8 billion USD. This economic climate in Kazakhstan has meant that the government has begun an ambitious privatization program that has resulted in the sale of over 120 small and mid-sized firms.

The production of rare metals and rare-earth metals was undertaken by Kazatomprom on a joint venture basis with two Japanese companies. Nearly 69.2% of rhenium was produced by the state-owned company, Zhezkazganredmet (RedMet).

 

Fossil Fuels

All the uranium produced in Kazakhstan is exported due to the lack of nuclear power plants in the country, which has generated a considerable amount of revenue. Being home to approximately 12% of the world’s uranium resources, Kazakhstan has benefited from a flow of investments into their uranium exploration activities, which have continued to increase over the past several years. This accounts for the steady increase in the country’s uranium production from 3,300 tons in 2003 to 21,700 tons in 2018.

Kazakhstan has rich natural gas and oil reserves, which can yield more than twice the country's current crude output of 4 million barrels per day in the coming years, according to International Energy Agency reports. This would also help the country to become one of the top seven oil producers in the world.

Investment

Kazakhstan has always looked at mining positively and has privatized most of the mining sector since 1998. In 2010, Kazakhstan became a part of the Belarus-Kazakhstan-Russia Customs Union to enhance foreign investment and better trade relationships.

In 2016, Kazakhstan was ranked as the 74th mining jurisdiction out of a total of 104 nations by the Investment Attractive Index. Kazakhstan has maintained the interest of large-scale foreign investors, which has allowed this nation to maintain the highest level of FDI per capita. With over 75% of Kazakhstan’s foreign investment directed towards the extraction of hydrocarbons, this country has persistently faced challenges in attracting foreign investors to improve the output of their mining and quarrying sectors.  

As of 2011, $18 billion of foreign investments has come into the country, according to government sources. Foreign companies have been allowed to have a share in the profits and ownership rights in exchange for help with modernization and upgrading the technology of the country’s mining sector.

For the future, the focus will be for explorations projects involving gold, rare metals, copper and uranium. Kazakhstan has plans to launch its third gold refinery by the end of next year.

Mineral commodity prices and government policies are two key factors expected to shape the future of mining in Kazakhstan.

The Kazakhstan government is relatively advanced in its mining procedures and has simplified processes for obtaining permits and procuring exploration licenses. It also has stringent policies to safeguard the environment, which annuls contracts in case of any violations that could be harmful to the nation’s interest.

Thanks to the abundant reserves of minerals and recent reports stating that 95% of the elements in the periodic table can be unearthed in Kazakhstan, the country’s mining industry will continue to experience strong global interest in the future.

Sources and Further Reading

This article was updated on 3rd February, 2020

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