Libmonster ID: RU-17254
Author(s) of the publication: Marina KHALIZEVA

by Marina KHALIZEVA, journalist

The future of Russia's oil and gas industry hinges on the development of her continental shelf deposits, in the arctic zone above all. This zone is called the country's "resource reserve", "strategic hedge of the 21st century": as much as 85 percent of the explored hydrocarbon reserves of the Russian offshore shelf are concentrated there. In the Barents, Pechora and Kara Seas alone, where more than 40 proved oil and gas pools have been detected, the recoverable reserves are estimated at 100 bin tons of equivalent (reference) fuel. One of the largest deposits is Prirazlomnoye, struck in 1989 in the Pechora Sea 60 km offshore; its recoverable pool exceeds 70 mln tons, with an estimated annual mining level at about 6,6 mln tons. Therefore in August of 2011 a modular platform was moved there to drill for oil. This is the first national project on the arctic shelf and the world's first platform capable of working in the harsh climatic conditions of the Far North amid pack ice, with the mercury often down to minus 50 centigrade.

стр. 21

Prirazlomnoye stationary platform.

RETROSPECTIVE LOOK

Prirazlomnoye is the child of the Sevmash R&D Association (Severodvinsk, Archangel Region), the center of Russia's nuclear shipbuilding with its design offices, shipyards and engineering plants working in tight cooperation with research institutions. This is a unique complex of marine technologies. The modular platform was laid down in December of 1995 for the Rosshelf Company set up three years before with the federal government's blessing. Among its first shareholders were as many as 19 design offices, research centers, enterprises and organizations largely affiliated with nuclear submarine shipbuilding, oil and gas industry, and geological prospecting. Furthermore, there were also officials of the Murmansk and Archangel administrative regions as well the lead gas producer, Gazprom, that in 1993 purchased controlling shares and has been supporting the Rosshelf Company with its pull and finances. Meanwhile Rosshelf had got licenses to develop two major fields, Prirazlomnoye and Stockmann (gas-condensate), both out in the Barents Sea.

For years the complex of Severodvinsk enterprises involved in the construction of nuclear submarines had been on the cutting edge of US-Soviet naval rivalry, and so its research, industrial and skilled personnel potential was growing apace. However, a drastic cut in defense spendings in the 1980s actually left no chances for its survival. Had it not been for the renovated Sevmash project, the entire industrial complex with its infrastructure and technologies would have faded away, with the work of several generations of scientists and engineers gone down the drain. But this did not happen: the unique ice-resistant modular platform saved Sevmash. While going ahead with building and repairing nuclear submarines, it broke ground for a new industry of oil and gas mining out in the sea.

Yevgeny Velikhov, a member of the national Academy of Sciences, was behind this major overhaul. Well aware of the negative trends in the defense industry, he sized up the situation in good time and approached the country's top leadership with the idea of merging the two industries-one concerned with the fabulous hydrocarbon resources on the Russian arctic shelf, and the other, offering unique technologies for turning out hardware high in demand on domestic and world markets.

Velikhov and his colleagues were certain: nuclear research centers and design offices would cope and use their know-how on the new project. As a matter of fact, nuclear submarines and modular marine platforms do not exhibit all too great differences in terms of their

стр. 22

The platform's caisson.

construction. This work is fully automated, it involves standard modular parts and offers reliable protection of the crews. So if modified somewhat, the shipbuilding technologies could be well employed for building oil-drilling rigs.

Yet the Velikhov idea and that of industrial shareholders of Rosshelf did not satisfy all of them. Many of the Western business quarters were thumbs down, too. Velikhov and coworkers had to fight through in championing Rosshelf as a national project and in assigning R&D work to homeland research institutions and enterprises by and large.

GAINS AND LOSSES

And yet Western partners were likewise welcome to a major oil project like that. It goes without saying that work on a continental shelf, in arctic regions in particular, is implicitly international. Such countries as Norway, Sweden and Britain that have common borders within the Arctic Circle are keeping tabs on what their neighbors are doing. Consequently, we could reckon on success only in tight international cooperation. Furthermore, with Russia having no oil refineries in coastal regions of the Northwest, we planned to ship crude to the European market at first. And last but not least, Western investments and expert evaluation were also needed. That is why back in the summer of 1993 Gazprom and Rosshelf signed an agreement with VNR of Australia, the world's greatest ore-mining company, which was to invest at the feasibility study stage if provided a most-favored status in product sharing. But as soon as the Australians had been through with the first leg of work, they backed out and then, in 1998, declined to take part in developing the Prirazlomnoye deposit for reasons of high-risk management and changes in corporate plans. Still and all, the project was launched, and it had to rely on Gazprom alone.

TECHNICAL RETOOLING

Offshore platforms working independently and, as a rule, far from population centers and inland infrastructure are rather complex engineering affairs. Their modular blocks, built simultaneously in several countries for 1.5-2 years, are towed to the assembly site, sometimes as far as thousands of kilometers away, and docked on the appointed time and at the appointed hour to a millimeter accuracy. Thousands of extracting platforms are working worldwide. But there are none operating in rigorous arctic conditions amid ice. Such platforms need a special level of engineering comparable to a cruiser. Sevmash became a trailblazer in this area.

Shipbuilders proceeded from a variant suggested by Rubin, a design office of marine technology in St. Petersburg-it was a gravitational type platform composed of a watertight caisson (metal base) and a superstructure.

The dry weight of the caisson amounted to 79,000 tons and, counting in the ballast, as much as 500,000. A structure like that would stand firm on the seafloor by sheer weight alone, and this would make it possible to extract crude round the year without fear of rough sea

стр. 23

and ice pressure. The caisson would make a good support for a rig with a drilling and production technology, power generators, a loading terminal, helipad, housing module for the crews and other accessories. Kellogg Brown & Root of the United States, a well-known oil and gas mining company, has joined the project. It guarantees a competent, skilled approach to the job. Hundreds of experts of Sevmash and Rubin had learned the ropes at Kellogg Brown & Root.

Rosshelf has launched a batch production of ice-resistant platforms, for which purpose the head enterprise had to be retooled; besides, production certificates complying with international standards were to be obtained. In just two years the association was readied for a large-scale building of sea oil and gas rigs. Its hull-machining shop was equipped with six oxygen-plasma gas cutters manufactured by ESAB of Sweden, and a water ejection cutting machine; the assembly as welding shop was fitted with a mechanized jig for tee jointing when the end face of one element is joined at an angle and welded to the end face of another one; also, a line was built for making planar sections at a rate of 8 to 10,000 a year. Press-forging equipment and an electric furnace were assembled in the electrode shop. The inside fairway was made deeper for moving superblocks of the platform's base. Gazprom laid out as much as 13 bln US dollars for purchasing imported equipment. Sevmash became a most advanced enterprise among oil and gas giants. In 1999 it won a federal State Prize for updating.

стр. 24

MARKET WHIRLIGIGS

In the late 1990s, however, the construction of the platform was stopped because of a conflict of interests among new investors. Financing was cut short. Rosneft that became a Rosshelf's major shareholder in 2001 saved the situation. People of defense enterprises were dropped from the Board of Directors, while Gazprom, Rosneft and the renovated Rosshelf founded a new company on a parity basis, Sevmorneftegas (in 2009 this close company was reorganized into Gazprom neft shelf. It obtained licenses for Prirazlomnoye and Stockmann deposits.

A NEW LEASE

This change of guard spelled bad news for Sevmash: one of the investors, Rosneft, wanted to scrap the spade-work accomplished in the construction of the caisson and purchase instead an old drilling rig in Canada so as to use it at Prirazlomnoye. That rig, however, was no good for the arctic North. Thereupon Acad. Velikhov turned directly to the government head who put the lid on this plan. And so in 2002 Severodvinsk crews resumed construction. Two years after, they put the first super-block into the shipyard's water pool, and in 2005, the last, fourth one, was laid on the platform's base. The elements of the structure were joined at an assembly pier. The caisson was ready for assembly of the superstructure.

The scope of this work was enormous. The customer purchased as much as 80,000 tons of AB-2 plates from the Severstal Steel Company (Cherepovets, Vologda Region), and Sevmash machined them. The super-blocks thus obtained were joined into a single structure. Overall, the welds totaled 12,000 running meters, with as much as 2,500 meters of butt joints welded under water. To ensure the required quality of welding, Sevmash joined hands with the Inter Aqua enterprise of divers and made a device that guaranteed such quality and safety.

The welders need special kudos. To make superblocks one used cold-resistant grades of steel capable of withstanding low temperatures between minus 40 to minus 60 °C. Steel is "restive" metal: acted upon by electrodes, it warps. Only first-rate welders are able to cope by turning the routine "patchwork" operation into a fine technological art. The welders' crew had taken a course to learn the knack.

стр. 25

HATTON STEERING TOWARDS SEVMASH

To cut building costs and speed up work, the customer decided in 2002 to place the upper part of the Hatton platform purchased the same year. It was built in 1984 by Highland Fabricators Inc. of Scotland, Britain. On having been in operation in the North Sea's oil fields for 12 years, Hatton was anchored in Norway. In 2003 it was towed in 21 days to Murmansk, where it was taken apart: the upper part of the platform was separated from the substructure and, in August of the same year it was hauled to Severodvinsk.

Several companies pitched in-Sevmash, Rubin, Korall, Kellog Brown & Root and Morneftegazproyekt (the latter set up in 2002 for design plans and specifications of technology employed on the shelf; it became a chief designer of Prirazlomnoye).

It came out during the winter seasons in Murmansk and Severodvinsk that the platform's equipment did not stand up against low temperatures. So in 2006 it was decided to install a new technology, and change pipelines, air conduits and cables. Experts say that just 30 percent was what remained of the "old hooker". Interviewed by the Internet portal flotprom.ru, Yevgeny Velikhov confided that "had it not been for the idea to buy the Hatton platform, Sevmash would have fixed up the upper structure at best".

Rubin took care of the crew module which, built at Vyborg in 2009, was placed on the base. The module is in three levels, it has single and double state rooms, offices, restrooms, cinehalls, canteens and a medical station. The superstructure was mounted on the platform while afloat to a unique Sevmash technology.

The assembly work was completed in rough outline only as late as November 2010. The platform was a real giant: 141 m tall, 139 m long and 144 m wide (with the base substructure 126x126x24.3 m large); its mass was 117,000 tons (not counting in the ballast). The platform carried a 113,000 m3 oil tank, fuel tanks, pumping stations, and had hundreds of kilometers of cables and pipelines, a countless number of assemblies and mechanisms. Its deck, 93x93 m large, bore an upper structure weighing 39,000 tons, production rigs and a living module that could accommodate 200 people. That's what she, the beauty, looked like before being tugged to Murmansk.

ADJUSTMENT AND ALIGNMENT

She was in for a bit of trimming in one of the Murmansk shipyards in the Kola Bay. Sevmash and Murmansk repair crews handled the cables, the living module, pipelines and electrotechnical outfit. In short, they attended to adjustment and alignment works.

The helipad was found to be okay. Rotary-wing aircraft could land and take off there to change shift crews based at Varandei, a community closest to the Prirazlomnoye deposit.

While in Murmansk, Sevmash crews balanced the base by pumping in concrete as ballast. "Concrete ballast is needed to even out the load onboard and steady the platform, to make it stand firm on the floor," explained Valery Borodin, a top Sevmash official. A water pool for ballast pumping should be no less than 19-20 meters deep. The Northern Dvina at Severodvinsk was

стр. 26

not as deep as that, and so the job had to be done in Murmansk.

Upon getting in slightly above 120,000 tons of concrete solution, the platform sagged by as much as 16.5 meters. When it is grounded to a depth of 19.2 meters, seawater is pumped in so as to build up draft. Thereafter the base is reinforced with a hundred thousand tons of rubble as a precaution against the thick icefields covering the Pechora Sea for a greater part of the year.

ARCTIC LOGISTICS

Then, in August of 2011, Russia's first ice-resistant platform, weighing 247,000 tons (solid ballast including), was towed to its anchorage in the Pechora Sea.

The drilling equipment and derrick from National Oil-well Varco (NOV) and Indrill International, US lead oil producers, make it possible to sink as many as 40 wells with vertical, slant and horizontal holes.

A specialized crude oil transportation system was provided for, with all-purpose icebreakers as well as shuttle and cruising oil-carriers engaged. There was also a floating oil storage facility brought to an anchor at Murmansk.

Gazprom neft shelf has already booked two shuttle oil-carrier tankers from Sovkomflot, the Mikhail Ulyanov and the Kirill Lavrov, with a deadweight of 70,000 tons. Built in cooperation with Aker Arctic Technology of Finland in the Admiralty Wharves of St. Petersburg, both can operate round-the-clock in harsh conditions of the Far North. The oil-carriers are supplied with a bow construction making it possible to load crude directly from the platform. The operational capability of this outfit is 10,000 m3/h; using a pipeline 500 mm in diameter and 80 meters long, it can pump in as much as 70,000 tons of crude in just 8 or 9 hours.

Havyard AS of Norway has built two all-purpose icebreakers, the Vladislav Strizhov and Yuri Tkachev, to keep oil ankers steady near the platform during loading. Both vessels are equipped with facilities for collecting oil slicks.

Novel technologies, for one, "wet" storage of crude, are being tested at Prirazlomnoye: fourteen tanks within the caisson would keep in liquids-crude or ballast water to prevent oxygen from getting in and causing an explosive hazard.

Although the rated service life of the extracting complex is 25 years, it can stay on even longer. Plans are underway to link the platform to the neighboring Dol-ginskoye deposit as a storage terminal. The company has laid out as much as 4 bln USD on Prirazlomnoye, and half of this bill, on the platform. The first barrels of crude are scheduled to be mined in September or October of 2013.

Illustrations from the Internet sites of Sevmash and Gazprom neft shelf


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