Sakhalin — Khabarovsk — Vladivostok — tested by nature

March 26, 2014

In one of our photo essays (One day in life of Gazprom headquarters) we mentioned that the global energy company operated simultaneously in all the time zones. “The work for Gazprom is a twenty-four-hour business,” specified the Company’s CEO Alexey Miller.

Let’s make sure of it once again. We invite you to take another fascinating trip to the Far East of our vast country. This time we are hospitably met at production facilities of the Sakhalin – Khabarovsk – Vladivostok gas trunkline.

It is worth mentioning right now that this gas pipeline is the first processing facility of such kind in Russia’s East. This interregional gas transmission system made it possible to supply Sakhalin gas to large industrial consumers in two Far Eastern regions – the Khabarovsk and Primorye Territories. Photo: the Sea of Okhotsk coast, the Sakhalin Island.

Besides, the Sakhalin – Khabarovsk – Vladivostok gas pipeline commissioning made it possible to start a large-scale gasification of Russia’s East. In 2013 alone Gazprom financed the design and construction of more than thirty gasification facilities in the Far Eastern regions. There are also enabling conditions for developing the gas processing sector there. Photo: Khabarovsk.

It is also highly important that now Russia has a chance to export pipeline gas to Asia-Pacific countries and enhance its positions in the local liquefied natural gas (LNG) markets. In the picture you can see a 3D model of the Vladivostok LNG project. An LNG plant, which is to be constructed near Vladivostok, will be fed from the Sakhalin – Khabarovsk – Vladivostok gas pipeline.

The complexity of the pipeline routing landscape and the strategic importance of the facility called for applying latest R&D outcomes and the most reliable design concepts in the pipeline construction.

The gas pipeline is fed with gas from offshore fields of the Sakhalin III project. Moreover, the Kirinskoye field of the project (Photo: its onshore processing facility (OPF)) is a unique facility itself – for the first time in Russia gas is produced there by a subsea production system.

Although the Far Eastern climate is harsh and the infrastructure is deficient, the 1,800-kilometer gas pipeline with the diameter of 1,200 millimeters was constructed in record-breaking time – the construction started in mid-2009 and the first operational stage was commissioned in September 2011. The existing Komsomolsk-on-Amur – Khabarovsk gas pipeline is a part of Sakhalin – Khabarovsk – Vladivostok.

In Sakhalin the majority of the gas pipeline facilities may be reached only by cross-country vehicles or helicopters – the land here is marshy.

“Since late 2011, when the gas pipeline was brought onstream, one cross-country vehicle has already passed 25 thousand kilometers. It’s more than a half of the equator,” says Alexander Perminev, Head of the Severo-Sakhalinskaya production site of the Sakhalin Line Pipe Operation Center, Gazprom Transgaz Tomsk.

A stringent requirement – the minimal environmental impact – was observed during the pipeline facilities construction. The construction operations were carried out within the existing communication lines. The lands disturbed during the construction were remediated.

The pipeline route avoided specially protected natural areas as much as possible, therefore there is plenty of fauna species in this area. While taking pictures of the fascinating Sakhalin nature, our photographer left the group and went a bit deeper into the forest. The local, who was accompanying us, started worrying immediately: it’s possible to meet a bear here. According to him, foxes are so used to people that if they notice anyone, they may approach and sit down at a distance waiting for a treat.

We have met neither foxes nor bears, but we were absolutely delighted with meeting another local resident living in the sea – a ringed seal or, to be more exact, ringed seals. When we reached the Bay of the Sea of Okhotsk, we stopped on the bridge and immediately a head appeared from under the water, then the second one, the third… People say that they are very curious and love listening to music.

The Sea of Okhotsk of the Pacific Ocean is inclement. In the north of the island, where we are right now, the sea is frozen from October till May and the south-eastern part, where the LNG plant of the Sakhalin II project is situated the sea almost doesn’t freeze. By the way, even in summer the temperature of the Sea of Okhotsk doesn’t exceed 18 degrees Celsius. In fact, that’s why subsea gas production is more effective under such conditions.

By the way, closer to the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk the soil seems to be solid, but actually it is almost a marsh. When you walk over it, you wiggle-waggle as if on waves and sometimes you may get your feet wet. Such soil is called a ‘mar’ (swampy soil). Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, our famous compatriot, visited Sakhalin in 1890 and wrote about these places: “The upper part of the island is totally unsuitable for life due to its climatic and soil conditions.”

But let’s return to our facility. The Far East is famous for its seismic activity, that’s why the unparalleled geotechnical monitoring system was installed along the whole gas pipeline route. In fact, these are sensors, which register soil changes and movements and transmit the information to the control board.

The gas pipeline crosses over 400 water barriers – both on the Sakhalin Island and the mainland. The largest water barrier is the Nevelsky Strait, through which gas comes to the mainland and further “goes down” to the vicinities of Vladivostok. All the submerged sections are made of high-strength pipes and backed with standby lines.

The banks were consolidated to keep rock formations from erosion and to make them proof to other hazards.

While constructing the pipeline, Gazprom used flow-coated pipes of Russian manufacturers (the internal surface of a pipe is coated with a special polymer reducing friction and, consequently, pressure drop that results in cost-saving over long distances.

And now let’s visit the site of the pipeline main compressor station– the Sakhalin MCS. This is where the gas pipeline starts.

The station is located near the Val village, one-hour ride from the Nogliki town, in forest-tundra.

At present, there are two gas compressor units (GCU) of 16 MW each, installed at the Sakhalin main compressor station. They enable to pump 6 billion cubic meters of gas through the gas pipeline every year. With extending the system capacity, the main compressor station to be equipped with 6 more GCUs and the pipeline itself will get 13 more compressor stations along the route enabling the annual capacity increase up to 30 billion cubic meters. Photo: GCU exterior.

And here is a compressor – the main component of GCU. In other words, it is a motor providing gas boost.

Every two hours compressor operator Vitaly Bagayev makes a visual inspection of the Sakhalin MCS equipment. According to him, an innovative oil-to-gas heat exchanger is the peculiarity of the Sakhalin units. Its operating principle is as simple as everything of genius. In fact, lube oil is used for lubricating and cooling down the moving parts of a machine. Previously GCUs were equipped with a bulky and sophisticated oil air-cooling unit. Moreover, a special heater was installed for gas heating.

Currently, oil is cooled by gas ranging in temperature from 1°C below zero and 5°C above zero when it enters the system. The gas flows through tubing and the tube space is filled with hot oil of 95°C to 140°C. Therefore, oil is cooled to about 60°C and gas is heated before being supplied to gas turbine. Thus, we kill two birds with one stone. It is pilot domestic technology.

Another innovation is applied in the compressor itself, namely, magnetic suspenders, which hold the rotor shaft in the air by the electromagnetic force. In old compressors the shaft was fixed by bearings causing friction and heating of the compressor. Now the shaft rotates in the electromagnetic field – it’s cost effective and requires no lubricants.

Andrey Osokin, Head of the Gas Compression Service of the Sakhalin main gas compressor station says that the idea of using magnetic suspenders at the compressor came to specialists of the Iskra Research and Production Association. It was them who produced the GCU. “As you can see – the manufacturer number is 1,” says Andrey. “The compression ratio of such machines is 2 versus 1.6 of ordinary compressors”.

GCU is surely called as the heart of the compressor station, but power engineers justly consider their work not less important. If the power plant didn’t exist, nothing would operate here, including the GCU, because it is electric-driven. Power engineer Sergey Vergasov shows us to the switchgear.

The power plant itself is the gas-fired unit equipped with reciprocating internal-combustion engine. It is similar to an automobile one, but fed with gas instead of petrol. Applying natural gas as a motor fuel is a perfect example of the modern trend.

“It is extremely reliable unit requiring tiny operational costs,” Vitaly Kulin, power plant operator praises his ‘dearie’.

Though, each division of the main compressor station is unique in its own way. For example, apart from delivering people and materials, the transportation service may also detach a vehicle equipped with a special antenna (a kind of a portable telephone station) to the site of large-scope activities. “We also have a vehicle repair shop and a filling station,” said Vyacheslav Leontyev, Head of the Transport Section.

And here is another ‘shtick’ from the local transport service employees. In winter it may be very cold here, down to 40–50°C below zero. It may take an hour to thaw a vehicle in such conditions. The following thing was invented: a long ‘battery’ was installed so that several vehicles could be connected simultaneously. A diesel unit is installed in a KamAZ fondly nicknamed ‘Gorynych’ (in Russian folklore: a three-headed dragon). This unit produces warm air, which is blown into the battery. The vehicles warm up in some 20 minutes. Photo: the ‘battery’ described above and the ‘forks’, which you can see, are placed transversely to the pipe and connected to the vehicle underbody in the front, under the engine.

In fact, the winter snow drifts here may be higher than a man. This is how the main compressor station employees were getting out of the trailer in April 2013.

Red poles serve to prevent the border stones from demolition by the snow clearing equipment during winter season.

Nikolai Ponitkov, shift engineer of the main compressor station supervise the gas transmission process from the control room. By the way, the Sakhalin Line Pipe Operation Center is the unique station, since it is the only one in the country, which controls not only gas trunklines, but oil ones as well.

Of course, there is a chemical laboratory here. Chemical engineer Vera Kozyreva monitors the quality of the conveyed gas (for example, its calorific value), content of water and various impurities, as well as particulars of oil used for lubricating expensive equipment.

In the metrological lab Andrey Proselkov, C&I mechanic, performs calibration or, in other words, adjustment of pressure gages, which are in abundance at any gas facility.

The frequency of gage misalignment in most cases depends on the point of its installation. Evidently, devices subject to high vibration, for example, those adjacent to compressors, require frequent readjustments. “To check the measurement accuracy without removing the device we have portable calibrators as well,” explained Andrey’s colleague, metrology engineer Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Not only equipment requires adjustment, but people as well. For this purpose, the main compressor station has a medical station equipped with a nebulizer and a massage chair. According to Alexander Proskuryakov, the health-care station chief (on photo, right), an electrophonophoresis unit, a bactericidal irradiator and a manual massage machine are expected soon.

As a working day’s over, employees come back to the camp designed for 208 people and located in a 15-munite drive from the main compressor station.

They can fully relax or enjoy active leisure there. There is a gym in the camp and it’s always crowded in the evening. We watched the local table tennis championship.

It’s impossible to live here without sports activities. The employees got used to a tight schedule (28 days on and 28 days off) and they get a special shift allowance “for neglecting marital duties” as they joke.

Local people are sturdy, cheerful and very hospitable. They ensured gas supplies to the Sakhalin Island. The Dalneye gas distribution station was built in the southern part of the island within a record short period and natural gas was supplied to utilities, industrial and agricultural enterprises and households. Later on, Sakhalin will be supplied with gas more intensely that will improve the environmental situation. We thank our hosts and keep on tracking the natural gas route.

As we have already mentioned, 13 compressor stations (CS) will be built along the gas pipeline route. Their sites have already been specified. We visited one of the CS sites in the Khabarovsk Territory, near the town of Bikin.

The landscape differs here – magnificent forests and mountains as well as higher seismic activity. The climate is no picnic either – cold winter with very strong wind and hot humid summer.

In the photo you can see the station for receiving and launching inspection gage. From time to time, they carry out in-line flaw detection at gas pipelines: a specialist tool is launched into a pipe.

Being pushed forward by gas pressure, this tool records possible flaws inside a gas pipeline. Besides, these stations are designed for letting scrapers in and out. An inspection gage is as heavy as 3 tons, a scraper – about 1 ton: one cannot do without a crane (in the photo, left).

To prevent rejects from free travelling inside the pipeline, a pipe section is left exposed. Such a ‘squiggle’ is called an expansion bend.

Evgeny Stefanyuk (in the photo, left), foreman of the gas pipeline operation and repair section at the Khabarovsk Line Pipe Operation Center, and Ruslan Pekhterev, repairman of the gas pipeline operation and repair section at the Khabarovsk Line Pipe Operation Center, are busy with manual switching of gas intake mode, although it is usually switched remotely by telemechanic systems.

The Khabarovsk Line Pipe Operation Center of Gazprom Transgaz Tomsk serves its gas pipeline section and three gas distribution stations (GDS) used to supply trunkline gas to Khabarovsk Territory consumers.

This GDS (in the photo) is located closer to Khabarovsk. Presently, it feeds with gas the following regional consumers: RAO ES of East CHPP, the Khabarovsk Refinery, fiberglass production plant, agricultural facilities along with other industrial companies and, of course, the citizens. Earlier, coal was the main energy source here that had a negative environmental impact.

The main purpose of the GDS is to reduce gas pressure before providing it to end consumers through low-pressure networks. In the photo you can see a pressure reduction unit providing the process. It’s the very point where gas is odorized with mercaptans (special ‘smelly’ additives) to detect gas ingress in case of its leakage (as you know, natural gas is naturally scentless).

According to Vasily Maksimenko, Head of the line operation service of the GDS section at the Khabarovsk Line Pipe Operation Center, GDS is completely equipped with remote controls, but one operator does keep watch at the facility anyway. He monitors all the data on PC display and is on the beat of his section every two hours.

In general, changes in the gas pipeline operation may be heard without any tools – the same way as an experienced driver can easily detect engine noise changes. It is exactly what Sergey Yakubovsky, operator at the GDS, shows us.

Now we are at the Khabarovsk regional control room located in the administration building nearby the GDS. Dispatchers observe all the parameters of the gas pipeline operation through high-resolution displays. Photo: Nikolai Ni, Head of the control station.

Khariton Ivanov, C&I engineer (in the foreground), keeps an eye on the indications despite of his birthday. In the photo, background – Evgeny Moskalenko, chief dispatcher.

“At the Khabarovsk Line Pipe Operation Center almost all employees are local residents, although there are no specialized higher education institutions in the region. It’s also a unique situation. Young specialists who have an engineering education are sent for one month to the Gazprom Transgaz Tomsk Corporate Institute for studying and practical training. Generally, 1–2 years of work at a gas pipeline is enough to bring up gas workers – during the first year the employees get acquainted with the whole cycle of the gas pipeline operation, during the second year they nail down their skills,” states Ivan Bashunov, Director of the Khabarovsk Line Pipe Operation Center.

According to him, there is a possibility of both vertical and horizontal rotation in the enterprise. The majority of professions, except single-disciplined specialists, such as chemical engineers, are substitutable. This is explained by the fact that in the course of work employees have to face different aspects of gas transmission process in one way or another.

Ivan Bashunov is proud of his staff. He tells us how the Line Pipe Operation Center employees used incredible wit to save expensive equipment from the heaviest flood that occurred in the Khabarovsk Territory late summer – early autumn last year. The telemechanics system was restarted with due account for the devices excluded from the system. Photo: Khabarovsk flooding.

During the flood the Khabarovsk and Amur Line Pipe Operation Centers of Gazprom Transgaz Tomsk operated in an intense availability mode. Special training on emergency response was conducted; the facilities within the flooded area along the gas pipeline route were inspected by helicopters. Issues regarding the relocation of the equipment, energy carriers and other materials to a safe height were solved without any delay. The provision was made for sand and fuel emergency stock and drain pumps.

The activities carried out by the Far Eastern gas workers had their effect – they ensured uninterrupted operation of all the production facilities during the emergency. Gas was supplied to consumers as usual.

During the disaster in the Far East the employees of Gazprom Transgaz Tomsk branches gave a helping hand in-situ. For example, the Amur Line Pipe Operation Center employees arranged the money and clothes funds for the benefit of Mendeleev settlement residents, which suffered from the flood the most. They helped by preparing sandwiches, baking bread, bringing hot tea to soldiers, who were building emergency dikes in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. The Khabarovsk branch employees (in the photo) composed school kits for schoolchildren and collected clothes for adults.

The Gazprom Transgaz Tomsk employees, succeeding each other, kept 12-hour watches in Khabarovsk for dewatering high-traffic highway by means of a powerful diesel unit. The water pumped out for an hour could fill eight rail tanks.

The Amur and Khabarovsk Line Pipe Operation Center welders in twenty-four hours completed a six-day work having eliminated damages at the pipeline in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. The company’s vehicles were carrying citizens, heavy vehicles were fortifying and building dikes in Komsomolsk-on-Amur.

The Far Eastern employees also took part in the environmental cleanup action – ‘Green Russia’ – that took place throughout the country on August 31, 2013. Photo: Valery Potapov and Dmitry Korotchenkov, electricians of the Khabarovsk Line Pipe Operation Center at the cleanup in flooded Khabarovsk (see the details in our photo essay ‘Thirty thousand Gazprom employees at all-Russia cleanup action’).

Unfortunately, the flood prevented us from going to Vladivostok – the end point of the gas pipeline. We had to adjust the program for our staying at the gas pipeline facilities and return to Moscow without visiting the capital of Primorye, where the gas infrastructure is being developed as well. In the photo you can see gas distribution station No. 1 in Vladivostok (the photo was taken in September 2011).

However, even without a picture of Vladivostok it is clear what great significance the gas pipeline has for the development of all the Far Eastern regions.

The gas pipeline significance was especially acknowledged in 2012, when the Primorye capital hosted the APEC Summit. A gas branch was built from Vladivostok to the Russky Island to supply the Summit’s facilities with gas (see the details in our photo essay ‘Sakhalin gas for Primorye’). Photo: the Russky Island, October 2013.

In the long run we are sure of the Far Eastern gas workers to be always at their best. Because they are pioneers and such people are known to be capable to hold their ground. This fact has been vividly proven by nature’s tests. Photo: Nikolai Zolotaikin, 4th grade electrician of station radio equipment for the Sakhalin Line Pipe Operation Center.

Gazprom website Editorial Board

P.S. We would like to thank Gazprom Transgaz Tomsk employees for helping us with preparing this photo essay. Gazprom Transgaz Tomsk operates the Sakhalin – Khabarovsk – Vladivostok gas pipeline. Special thanks to Yulia Timoshenko, PR and Media Relations Service expert for the Khabarovsk Line Pipe Operation Center. She treated us with the same care as this grasshopper, which we came across near the gas pipeline.

You can find large size images in Photos.