Oil and Gas Transportation Systems in the Russian Arctic

Oil off-loading from Varandey terminal to the tanker Timofey Guzhenko (Photo: Aker Arctic)Oil off-loading from Varandey terminal to the tanker Timofey Guzhenko (Photo: Aker Arctic)

The specificity of Russia's natural, climatic and geological conditions is that the most resourcerich areas are located in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. About two thirds of the area is featured with the presence of permafrost, which also covers a substantial part of the Arctic sea waters complicating the development of hydrocarbon (HC) raw materials. The distribution of HC resources in the Russian Federation's waters is highly uneven: about 75 percent of total resources and 86 percent of northern seas' resources are concentrated in the western Arctic – the Barents, Pechora and Kara seas. This depends to a great extent on regional geological features and large area of these waters (a total of about 50 percent of the Arctic shelf of the Russian Federation) [1, 2, 3, 6]. All the Arctic offshore fields have also been discovered in those seas. None of the oil and gas wells has been drilled so far in the eastern Arctic seas (Laptev, East Siberian and Chukchee seas).

Oil and gas production in the Arctic has long been the basis of economic development of domestic regions, e.g., Alaska, Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District (YaNAO), Nenets Autonomous District (NAO) reaching in the above two Russian regions, according to the local administration data, up to 83 and 98 percent, respectively. However, HC resources on the Arctic shelf and, moreover, on the Arctic Ocean continental slope are being developed much slower than in most other regions of the World Ocean, which is mainly due to extremely difficult environmental conditions, environmental vulnerability and (to a lesser extent) due to the presence of disputable water areas in the Circumarctic region.
Oil and gas transportation systems in the Arctic include local and main oil and gas pipelines, transportation by railways and marine tanker fleet. The existence of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) and nuclear icebreaker fleet allows transportation of HC liquids (oil, gas condensate and liquefied gas) eastward and westward to the European, United States and Pacific Region markets. HCs are exported by tankers from several terminals of Murmansk, Vitino, Arkhangelsk, and Varandey seaports. In this case, the first three ports receive HCs by railway, which limits the traffic volume.
A share of exports of HC liquids through the Arctic gate is low as compared to the total Russian exports by sea. It is only 6.3 percent in 2011 and 4.8 percent in 2012. In 2012, the Arctic seaports exported 14.9 million tons of oil with gas condensate and oil products, which is by 20 percent less than in 2011 due to changing transportation routes [5].
Murmansk Seaport (Photo: Vasiliy Bogoyavlensky)Murmansk Seaport (Photo: Vasiliy Bogoyavlensky)
Most HCs produced in Russia are transported to consumers through main pipeline networks. The image below shows the location of the Arctic onshore and offshore fields and main oil and gas pipelines (in green and red). Also shown is a projected gas pipeline from the Shtokman gas condensate field in the Barents Sea. In 2012, after long preparatory works and negotiations about starting investments to the Shtokman field development project, the partners – OAO Gazprom, Total S.A. and Statoil ASA - postponed the start of its development indefinitely.
Oil and Gas Industry InfrastructureOil and Gas Industry Infrastructure
The first gas production from the Russian Arctic onshore fields started in the north of Krasnoyarsk Kray at the Messoyakha field in 1969, from which the 671 km-long world's northernmost main gas pipeline has been built for two years to supply the city of Norilsk and Norilsk Nickel Enterprise with gas. In 1972, gas production started in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District (YaNAO) at the Medvezhie field with further transportation to European Russia and Europe. Thus, the Russian Arctic oil and gas transportation system started working 5–8 years earlier than that in Alaska through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline built in 1977 to transport oil from the Alaska North Slope fields (area of the Prudhoe Bay Unit) to the port of Valdez in the south of Alaska. For four decades in the YaNAO, over 16 trillion m3 of gas have been produced and transported westward, nearly a half of which was produced outside the Polar Circle. The total amount of produced and transported Arctic (to the north of the Polar Circle) HCs of oil equivalent is 3.5 times as much as that produced on the Alaska North Slope.
On October 23, 2012, gas transportation started from the unique reserves Bovanenkovo gas condensate field owned by OAO Gazprom through a new main gas pipeline Yamal-Ukhta with a diameter of 1,420 mm and length of about 1,100 km. The maximum planned production level of this field will amount to 115–140 billion m3. During the pipeline construction, the complex crossing of the Baydaratskaya Bay was performed with the deepening of two 1,219-mm pipe lines to the sea bottom to protect against damage caused by ice ridges and grounded ice. In future, other Yamal Peninsula fields, the fields of the land-sea transit area (Kharasavey, Krusenstern and others) and of the adjacent Kara Sea shelf (Leningrad, Rusanov and others) will be connected to this pipeline. A part of gas from the southern Yamal fields (Kamennomysskoe-Sea, North-Kamenomysskoe and others) will be transported through the Yamburg field infrastructure.
In northern Yamal, near the port of Sabetta a large gas liquefaction (LNG) plant is being constructed, including three production lines with a capacity of 5.5 million tons each (the total is 16.5 million tons) according to the OAO Yamal-LNG project. It is planned that since 2016–2018 LNG will be transported by gas tankers along the NSR westward and eastward. It is supposed that 10 giant ice-class gas tankers (up to 300 m long) with a carrying capacity of 170 thousand m3 of LNG (about 77 thousand tons with an average density of 0.45 g/cm3) will be needed to be constructed. Given the Sabetta LNG plant capacity is from 16.5 to 25 million tons (the latter – with consideration for a planned Gazprom contribution), from 214 to 325 gas tanker calls a year will be needed, which mostly should ship LNG eastward along the NSR not to provoke competition with OAO Gazprom's gas transported to Europe by pipelines and LNG which will be exported from the United States.
Sabetta port LNG plant and terminal project (Photo: OAO Yamal-LNG)Sabetta port LNG plant and terminal project (Photo: OAO Yamal-LNG)
By 2030, the new gas producing region in Yamal should provide the total annual gas production and shipment in amount of up to 360 billion m3. Taking into account the operation of at least another three oil and gas terminals of Varandey, Prirazlomnoe and Pechora LNG, the security of large-scale oil and gas transportation in Arctic conditions requires the most thorough working out which is to be complicated by the absence of international experience and terminating service life of nuclear icebreakers (currently, the construction of a nuclear icebreaker of new generation has been started).
The Northern Sea Route (NSR) runs through the Russian Arctic and is the shortest navigation route linking European and Far Eastern Russia, as well as European and Asia-Pacific Region countries. The NSR is of a strategic significance for Russia as one of the most important export corridors allowing to effectively transport huge cargo volumes, mainly mineral raw materials. The distance between Saint Petersburg and Vladivostok is 14 thousand km, which is 9 thousand km shorter than the Southern Sea Route (SSR) through the Suez Canal and 16 thousand km shorter than that via the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa). The distance between Rotterdam and Yokohama is shortened by as much as 2.2 times (10.7 and 23.8 thousand km). It clearly shows the effectiveness of the NSR use to export Russian hydrocarbons and other mineral resources.
Nils Nordenskiold's Swedish expedition aboard the wooden whaling schooner Vega first sailed through the entire Northern Sea Route for two navigation seasons of 1878–1879 with one wintering. In 1932, the icebreaker Aleksandr Sibiryakov headed by Otto Schmidt made the first crossing of the Northern Sea Route in a single navigation for two months and three days, however, suffered a number of serious damages. That year was formally recognized in Russia as the start of the NSR operation. In 1936, two fleet destroyers Voykov and Stalin sailed through the NSR (from Leningrad – 2.06.36 to Vladivostok – 17.09.36). In 1987, cargo traffic in different NSR parts reached the maximum of 6.6 million tons followed by a significant decrease to 1.46 million tons in 1998 caused by general Russia's economic crisis [7].
Northern and Southern Sea RoutesNorthern and Southern Sea Routes
In 2011, the NSR was open from June 29 through November 18. According to FSUE Atomflot data, the total cargo traffic reached 2.17 million tons [8] (according to the Murmansk Shipping Corpporation – 3.3 million tons), most of the traffic was piloted by nuclear icebreakers. At the same time, 835 thousand tons of transit cargo were carried and 34 ships passed along the entire NSR (according to other sources – 41 ships [7]). In 2012, cargo traffic increased significantly, up to 3.7 million tons according to preliminary data, including 1.26 million tons of transit cargo through the entire NSR [9], of which a large portion of cargo (about 71 percent) was HC liquids. At that, 46 ships passed through the NSR. For comparison, in 2011 the number of ships is 524 times less than that of the ships that passed through the Suez Canal, and in the pre-crisis 2008 over 21 thousand ships passed through the Suez Canal, Canal, and in the pre-crisis 2008 over 21 thousand ships passed through the Suez Canal. Despite the NSR success in 2011–2012, transit cargo traffic reached only about 0.2–0.3 percent of that through the Suez Canal. A serious problem of the NSR is that most ships pass a transit route from the east to the west without cargo.
In 2011, a new route to the north of the New Si¬berian Islands (thus avoid¬ing the shallow Sannikov Strait) became available for piloting deep-sea tankers with a draught of more than 12 m. The first tanker Perse¬verance was piloted by two icebreakers Yamal and Tai¬myr. The tanker has a length of 228 m; breadth of 32 m; draught of 12.4 m, and tank capacity of 60 thousand tons of gas condensate. On August 23–30, the entire NSR was passed through in a record short time of 7.5 days (an average speed of 14 knots) by the OAO Sovcomflot's largest tanker Vladimir Tikhonov of a dead-weight capacity of 162.4 thousand tons and with 120.8 thousand tons of gas condensate [8]. The tanker di¬mensions are as follows: length – 280 m, breadth – 50 m, draught – 13 m. In 2011, in total, 9 tank¬ers sailed the route shipping 686 thousand tons of OAO NOVATEK's gas condensate from the port of Vitino to South Korea, China and Thailand. For comparison, in 2001, only three tankers with 60 thousand tons of gas condensate each were pi¬loted by the icebreakers Yamal and Taimyr.
In 2012, in addition to transporting oil, gas condensate and oil products, liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the amount of 134.5 thousand m3 was first shipped along the NSR by the gas tanker Ob River that followed from Melkoya (Hammerfest, Norway) to the port of Tobata (Japan).
The NSR effective year-round operation as an international transit corridor is impossible without using nuclear icebreakers and only Russia has many years' experience in their construction and operation (the first nuclear icebreaker Lenin was built in 1954). Currently, FSUE Atomflot oper¬ates six nuclear icebreakers: 50 Let Pobedy, Yamal, Rossiya, Sovetsky Soyuz, Taimyr and Vaigach, the two first of which will be in operation after 2020. In 2013, there started the construction of a new universal double-draught icebreaker with a capacity of up to 60 MW (design LK-60Ya), capa¬ble of cutting through 2–3 m thick multi-year ice.
Tanker Vladimir Tikhonov pilotage along the Northern Sea Route in August 2011 [8]Tanker Vladimir Tikhonov pilotage along the Northern Sea Route in August 2011 [8]
Since 1985, light sweet oil is produced from the field in the Lower Triassic sands of the Peschanoozerskoe oil field (discovered in 1982) located in the east of Kolguev Island. In 2001, the production maximum of 125.4 thousand tons was reached. Since then it has steadily declined. As of the beginning of 2012, the cumulative production exceeded 1.9 million tons. Oil is accumulated in shore-based oil storage facilities of up to 60 thou-sand tons and exported to Rotterdam in summer and autumn by the tankers with deadweight of about 30 thousand tons. The two subsurface us¬ers FSUE AMNGR (OOO Zarubezhneft) and ZAO Arktikneft (owned by Urals Energy from 2005) are development license holders.

OAO Lukoil constructed a unique fixed off¬shore ice-resistant off-loading terminal (FOIROT) Varandey to export oil from the Timan-Pechora province under the Northern Territories project, which is operated year round and is the world's northernmost oil terminal (69°05'N) to be listed in the Guinness Book of Records. One of the reasons of its construction is the fact that oil ex¬port distance from this region to New York is three times shorter than that from the Persian Gulf in¬creasing the competitiveness of the Northern Territories project. The Russian organiza¬tions and OAO Design Bureau Coral from Sevastopol have participated in preparing the FOIROT Varandey technical project, while the Russian steel production plant OOO LUKOIL-Kaliningradmorneft in the Kaliningrad Region has manufactured it. In summer 2007, the FOIROT basement was transported by sea aboard AMT Trader (Netherlands) special barge to a distance of 4,700 km through the Atlan¬tic Ocean and the Barents Sea and installed in the Pechora Sea, 22 km from the coast at a depth of 17.3 m. An octagonal steel terminal basement, having a weight of 9.8 thousand tons and a height of 35 m, was se¬cured with 24 powerful piles hammered 40 m deep into the bottom rocks to prevent its displacement by drifting ice. Crane Stanislav Yudin installed an off-loading arm and helicopter pad of the total weight of 1.3 thousand tons at the terminal base¬ment. It can rotate by 360º using a German-man¬ufactured special bearing with a diameter of 7 m. The main terminal deck is located at an elevation of 18 m above sea level, while the total structure height from the bottom is 50 m. The total terminal weight is 11 thousand tons.

The FOIROT Varandey is designed for year-round operation and has a capacity of 12.5 million tons of oil per year and off-loading rate of 8 thou¬sand m3 per hour. Oil is fed from shore-based oil storage facilities of 325 thousand tons through two pipelines of 22.6 km in length and 820 mm in diameter (hammered to a depth of 1.5 m), which are used in the interval between the loading of oil tankers for oil recycling with its heating up to 60ºC on shore to prevent its freezing. Oil from the South-Khylchuyu oil and gas condensate field is of a better quality; it contains almost twice less sul¬fur (0.7 percent) and by 2.1 percent lighter than traditional Urals Blend, its density is 0.847 g/cm3 (35.5ºAPI) as compared to 0.865 g/cm3 (32ºAPI). It was found during the development of the South- Khylchuyu field that its recoverable reserves had been too much overestimated (3.5 times [10]), which led to a sharp drop in oil production from nearly 7 million tons in 2009 to 1.2 million tons in 2012, and underutilization of the Varandey termi¬nal. In 2012, the FOIROT Varandey shipped only 3.1 million tons of oil – 41.6 percent of its maxi¬mum shipment of 7.46 million tons in 2010 and 24.8 percent of its capacity. Since 2013, we expect an increase in traffic through the terminal due to oil transportation from other NAO oil fields.
Oil is exported from the Varandey terminal by three OAO Sovkomflot's special Arctic shuttle tankers Vasily Dinkov, Kapitan Gotsky and Timofey Guzhenko. Each of them has a length of 258 m, draught of 14 m and deadweight of 72.7 million tons (capacity of 85.3 million m3 of oil) and was specially constructed in 2007–2009 following Aker Arctic technology at Samsung Heavy In¬dustries shipyard in Korea. Oil is loaded through the bow system which receives up to 10 thousand m3 of oil per hour. These are the first tankers in the world capable of moving indepen¬dently through up to 1.5 m ice without icebreaker support. If needed, they are capable of moving for¬ward and aft by half turning two 10 MW Azipod engines. The shuttle tankers deliver and reload oil in the largest Russian floating storage tanker Be¬lokamenka (length – 340.5 m, breadth – 65 m, hull height – 31.5 m, deadweight – 360 thousand tons, anchored in the ice-free Kola Bay, for further export to Europe and the North America by larger tankers with a deadweight of 150 thou¬sand tons. When operating at full capacity the FOIROT needs about 180 tanker calls.
In 2010, the FSUE PO Sevmash completed the construction of an offshore ice-resistant fixed platform (OIRFP) Prirazlomnaya in Severodvinsk by the order of OOO Gazprom Neft Shelf. In 2011, the OIRFP was installed in the Prira¬zlomnoe oil field (OAO Gazprom) located 60 km from the coast on the Pechora Sea shelf covered by ice most of the year (7–8 months). The air tem¬perature reaches -50ºC and ice thickness is 1.6 m in winter there. Special requirements are imposed on the operator company to ensure environmental safety. In 2013, the field development is planned under the project comprising the drilling of about 40 differently directed deviated wells with hori¬zontal tailing-in (vertical depth – 2,400 m), in¬cluding 19 operational and 16 water injection ones. A separate well is intended to pump drilling waste into the Triassic sands. There will be the use of up to 95 percent of associated gas for own needs.

After the installation at the field, the OIRFP Prirazlomnaya has a 126x126 m steel cais¬son support base and a total operational weight of 506 thousand tons, including ballast. The OIRFP has the reservoirs to accumulate and store up to 100 thousand m3 of oil exported by reinforced ice-class LU6 tankers Mikhail Ulyanov and Kirill Lavrov built in 2008–2010 by the Russian Admiralty Ship¬yards following the Aker Arctic project (AARC). Each tanker has a length of 257 m, draught of 14 m and deadweight of 70 thousand tons (tank capac¬ity of 87 thousand m3). They are capable of mov¬ing independently through up to 1.2 m ice forward and aft (two Azipod propulsion units). In addition, there are two bow thrusters to facilitate maneuver¬ing and moving through the ice fields.

With the maximum annual oil production of the Prirazlomnoe of 6.5 million tons and the use of tankers having deadweight of 70 thousand tons (capacity – about 87 thousand m3) at least 93 tanker calls will be needed. Oil is planned to be transported to the existing export termi¬nal in the Kola Bay or the Pechenga terminal whose construction is planned near the border with Norway. In addition, the U.S. Company Ja¬cob Stolt Noelson thoughtfully plans to build in 2016 a terminal with a capacity of about 20 mil¬lion tons per year in the ice-free Kirkenes to re¬load the Russian Arctic's oil from small ice-class tankers to tankers with deadweight of up to 300 thousand tons.

OIRFP Prirazlomnaya (Photo: OAO Gazprom)OIRFP Prirazlomnaya (Photo: OAO Gazprom)

Many years of experience in operating the most modern facilities in different segments of in¬dustry have shown that the problems sometimes arise even with the most reliable ones of them. Along with probable facility failures, the human factor plays a negative role against which even the most advanced technologies and facilities cannot be secured. Two of the problems in the offshore oil and gas fields' development on the Russian shelf is a shortage of qualified personnel that has emerged recently and has been ever increasing (staff short¬age) and a growing influence of the human factor in adverse events.

Based on the international experience, the work [4] shows that it is the HC transportation by tankers that is the greatest threat to the World Ocean ecosystem and, moreover, to the Arctic waters. It is known that the volume of oil spills during its transportation is 23–26 times higher than during offshore production [4]. The volume of oil transportation exceeds 1.5 billion tons per year, which is about 40 percent of the world pro¬duction. According to the available international statistics of tanker-accidents-induced oil spills, 84–88 percent of events are associated with the human factor and difficult navigation conditions [4]. Moreover, 27 percent of cases account for grounding cases, and 49 percent - for collisions with ships or onshore facilities. These statistics are related to much more favorable tanker trans¬portation conditions than those in the Arctic wa¬ters, where there are additional problems for navi¬gation (ice conditions, vessel icing, poor visibility caused by frequent fogs and long winter period with a limited light flux, and others).

A proof of this is the fact that one of the biggest disasters in the world occurred in 1989 near the southern coast of Alaska, whose adja¬cent waters have much more favorable naviga¬tion conditions than those in Arctic latitudes - over 40 thousand tons of oil spilt from the grounded tanker Exxon Valdez (human factor) contaminating more than 1,500 km of coastline (the damage was estimated at 6–9 billion dol¬lars in 1982 prices). In 1990, after a series of major accidents and tanker disasters the United States, through the decision of President George Bush (Sr.), passed a new law on oil pollution (Oil Pollution Act of 1990) that stopped opera¬tion of a lot of offshore areas. For several years, a national system of preventing and responding to accident spills has being developed, including an integrated network of satellite communications and control, and technical bases with the neces¬sary equipment.

Russia carries out similar work, creates and improves a ship traffic control system, in¬cluding that from space, to reduce the human factor. The Russian Academy of Sciences ex¬perts have been actively involved in justifying and creating a Multi-Purpose Space System (MPSS) Arktika to monitor different situa¬tions in the northern latitudes, and have been working on creating a remote (space) monitor¬ing system for natural and man-made HC spills in the Russian waters. According to the Secu¬rity Council of the Russian Federation order of 17.03.10, MPSS Arktika, including two space¬craft for real-time radar monitoring of ice con¬ditions and ship's position, should be commis¬sioned before 2015.

Vasiliy Bogoyavlensky,
Corresponding Member of RAS,
Deputy Director of the Oil and Gas Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciencies
(Arctic and World Ocean)


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