The Caspian Pipeline Consortium has been ordered to immediately halt oil tanker loadings and pumping operations at its marine terminal at the Russian Black Sea port off Novorossiysk, leaving European markets to prepare for the interruption of the delivery of over 1 million barrels per day of Kazakh crude.

The ruling was made on Tuesday by a regional court in Novorossiysk, which approved Russian transportation safety watchdog Rostransnadzor’s demand for a temporary halt in Caspian Pipeline’s operations, according to the operator.

The court rejected Caspian Pipeline’s request to postpone the hearings to prepare its defence against the demand, but reduced the length of the stoppage to 30 days from the 90 days requested by Rostransnadzor.

The operator said it will comply with the order once Russian bailiffs arrive at its premises at the terminal, which lies about 13 kilometres from Novorossiysk.

“Russian bailiffs may be slow”, a corporate lawyer in Moscow told Upstream.

Tanker loadings from the terminal were understood to be continuing uninterrupted on Wednesday morning, unidentified shipping sources told Reuters.

Caspian Pipeline said on Wednesday that it filed an appeal to postpone the court’s ruling, arguing that the stoppage “could lead to irreversible consequences for the production process”.

The lawyer in Moscow told Upstream that, under Russian laws governing a court-ordered halt of business operations, the appeal is just a “formality” and its submission may not delay the ordered stoppage.

However, the lawyer pointed out that Caspian Pipeline may file an appeal to the same court to restart operations before the 30-day stoppage period expires, provided it can prove that it rectified the deficiencies behind the reason for the halt.

Deficiencies in oil spill response

According to Rostransnadzor, earlier audits of Caspian Pipeline’s loading terminal by the agency and another state body, technical compliance watchdog Rostekhnadzor found faults in the operator’s oil spill response planning.

Caspian Pipeline said both agencies gave the operator until 30 November to remove the deficiencies and improve response measures, and did not indicate their intention to ask the courts to halt operations.

Kazakhstan Prime Minister Alikhan Ismailov held an urgent meeting with government ministers early on Wednesday about the stoppage, though the government’s press service was unable to provide details.

Caspian Pipeline carries Kazakh crude via its pipeline network across Russian territory to the export terminal at Novorossiysk, but is excluded from Western sanctions against Russia following the invasion of Ukraine, because its network remains the major export route for Kazakhstan’s foreign-led Tengiz, Kashagan and Karachaganak oil producing projects.

The operator is responsible for about 80% of oil exports from Kazakhstan, with the foreign led Tengiz, Kashagan and Karachaganak developments being its major customers. It also carries smaller amounts of oil from Russian oil producers Lukoil and Rosneft.

Lukoil has been using Caspian Pipeline’s facilities to export crude from its fields in the Russian sector of the Caspian Sea, while Rosneft has sent dedicated parcels of crude from West Siberia via the pipeline.

According to Kazakh oil industry analysts quoted by country’s industry social network channel Energy Monitor, alternative oil routes from the country can not be arranged immediately.

The country and its producers will have to invest into the expansion of alternative export options, such as cross-Caspian shipments to Azerbaijan with the ultimate goal of reaching European markets, oil swap arrangements with Iran and pipeline deliveries to China and Uzbekistan.

In April, Caspian Pipeline had to interrupt loadings to repair its tanker loading offshore buoys following damage caused by a heavy storm.

Loadings of oil were also restricted in June after Russian authorities ordered seabed surveys near the buoys.