Flying the flag of St. Vincent and the Grenadines

April 20, 2010

Gazprom has set to constructing the offshore section of the Dzhubga – Lazarevskoye – Sochi gas pipeline.

Tuapse is a nice town located on the Black Sea coast. In April the vegetation is already abundant there: poplars grow green and cherry trees are blooming. In addition, Tuapse is a large port, from where Russian energy resources are shipped abroad. Strange as it may seem, the town itself has no developed gas infrastructure – the gasification level stands at only 2 per cent being the lowest one across the Krasnodar Krai.

Snowy winters are rare in Tuapse, though it may be quite cold here. For instance, last winter there emerged the need to limit natural gas supplies to some largest industrial consumers of the region for a couple of days in order to provide gas to the population. The bulk of local citizens seem to consider gasification as a fond hope – not all of them were informed that Gazprom was constructing in the region the Dzhubga – Lazarevskoye – Sochi gas pipeline designed to fundamentally improve the energy supply situation in a few years.

The floating planet

Having launched the offshore section construction in early April, the C-Master pipe-laying barge has not moved far from the shore – you can see the lights of the vessel from the Tuapse seafront at night. The C-Master came to the Black Sea from the faraway Persian Gulf, where it had been dealing with pipeline placement during the recent few years. At the moment, the vessel is moving along the Krasnodar Krai coast at the distance of about 4.5 kilometers from it. According to Oleg Sergeev, Director General of Piter Gaz (customer for the gas pipeline construction), the project was designed in such a way that it should be as distant from the coastline as possible. This will substantially mitigate the environmental impact on the Black Sea coast ecosystem.

Intended for manpower and materials delivery, the supporting vessel Phoenix (owned by Romanian GSP) supplies the barge. Once on board the vessel, you find yourself in a foreign state, where the operations here have been precisely and carefully planned.

As a rule, all the vessels fly the flags of a number of “convenient” states – these are offshore states with the most favorable tax regimes. The Phoenix floats the flag of Malta. Therefore, you have to spend about an hour in a Mediterranean state, in fact as long as it takes the supporting vessel to deliver cargoes to the pipe-laying barge.

The Phoenix circles widely around the barge so as not to touch the string of the gas pipeline being placed on the sea bottom and moors in close proximity to the C-Master. In the near distance the pipe layer looks like a huge white iceberg with almost 150 meters in length and a skyscraper’s height. The safety measures demand that all deliveries from one vessel to the other be carried out by a lift crane with a special net or the so-called “cage” attached to it. So, cargoes and people are soaring in the air for over half a minute.

The C-Master is really a versatile vessel. It floats the flag of St. Vincent and the Grenadines – a small state in the Caribbean Sea. The vessel is operated by Romanian GSP, as well. On the deck we meet smiling Malaysians and Thais. The crew also involves Europeans from France, the Netherlands, Denmark other states.

According to David Owen (Great Britain), the C-Master superintendent, there are a total of 257 people on board the vessel now. “We are having a small community here, that comprises people of various religions and ethnic groups. We are good friends. If all the people in the world lived as peacefully as we are, there would be no problems on the planet,” he says.

Before you get on board the vessel, it is necessary to put on a helmet, an orange-colored guard vest and safety glasses. It is mandatory to follow special rules and put on blue one-off shoe covers, like in a hospital, when you are inside the vessel.

The vessel is fully equipped for comfortable twenty-four-hour living – the rotation shift lasts 6 weeks. There is a restroom with a large plasma screen, a spacious canteen (though cooking is mostly done by Philippinians, the food is absolutely habitual for Europeans) and even an internet cafe.

The pipes for the gas pipeline are stored on the main deck – neatly in lines, they occupy the area of dozens of square meters. Oleg Sergeev says there are almost 340 pipes, each 530 millimeters in diameter and 12 meters in length. All the pipes are manufactured domestically, at the Vyksa Steel Works, and coated with concrete at the Moscow Experimental Pipe Procurement Plant. 8 special barges deliver pipes to the vessel from a base in Temryuk.

The gas pipeline construction process consists of several stages. The pipes are delivered to a special conveyor system, cleansed and, immediately after that, welded. Once examined for flaws or defects, a welded joint is treated in a special way to ensure protection from leaks or mechanical damages. After that, the pipe is placed on the sea bottom using a stinger. The entire process lasts approximately 8 minutes. Thus, every 8 minutes the gas pipeline gets 12 meters longer, while the vessel moves by exactly the same distance. It is almost impossible to notice the vessel movement. The sea is calm, but even in a stormy weather the vessel’s stability is ensured by a special positioning system. Thus, as the Head of Piter Gaz states, the vessel is designed to withstand the 5th level of storm intensity.

Each stage of construction involves several workers. The working conditions are not very comfortable here – the conveyor system generates high noise and temperature levels as a result of the welding operations.

Though, the crew got used to such working conditions – each worker has a vast experience in laying pipes all around the world. A Dutch welder explains his problem – the alarm sound hinders sleep as his accommodation is located directly beneath the conveyor system. Every 8 minutes the alarm sound signals that a new pipe is fed to the system. This is one of the few problems here. The work shift lasts 12 hours and is followed by a 36-hour rest period. The workers don’t refuse to tell us the amount of their salary. One of them smiles and says, “If anything didn’t suit us, we wouldn’t work here”.

The energy thoroughfare of the Olympic Games

The total length of the gas pipeline accounts for 177 kilometers including 159.5 kilometers of the offshore section. Since early April the C-Master has placed over 30 kilometers of the gas pipeline – around one-fifth of the offshore section. The placement speed averages 2.5 kilometers per day.

Construction of the offshore section is to be completed by late June – early July when the final tie-in or the “golden joint”, as experts call it, is welded in Kudepsta near Sochi. Oleg Sergeev believes that the customers will be able to meet this deadline – at the moment the construction is being performed on schedule.

By late April, another pipe layer (GSP Bigfoot 1) will join the C-Master. This vessel will start welding tie-ins in shallow waters near the shore. The Dzhubga – Lazarevskoye – Sochi pipeline will have a total of 5 landfalls: in Dzhubga, in the settlement of Novomikhailovsky, in Kudepsta near Sochi, as well as two landfalls in Tuapse with the poorest gas infrastructure among coastal regions.

The Dzhubga – Lazarevskoye – Sochi gas pipeline is called the energy thoroughfare of the Olympic Games. The project is included into the governmentally-approved Program for the Olympic facilities construction and development of Sochi as a mountain-climatic resort.

The gas pipeline will secure reliable energy supplies to the Winter Olympic Games host city and deliver gas to the Olympic facilities. The Adler TPP will become an important source of heat and electric power for the Olympic facilities. Construction of the TPP was launched around six months ago and is projected to be completed in 2012. The TPP will be primarily powered by natural gas delivered via the gas pipeline being built.

Construction of a mountain-climatic center is also underway in Krasnaya Polyana. Casting of the foundation for the integrated ski-biathlon complex was launched nearly a month ago. All the regional activities sponsored by Gazprom are progressing according to schedule.

Gazprom estimates that all major population centers in the Krasnodar Krai will be gasified within the next few years. The regional gasification, although, depends not only on Gazprom. As is known, local authorities are responsible for construction of low-pressure networks, and the exact dates of the “blue fuel” delivery to each and every house in Tuapse will depend on their ability to meet the obligations on consumer preparation for gas supplies.

Gazprom website Editorial Board