Vladimir Vovk: Approaching the reliability level achieved in the space industry

October 18, 2010

Gazprom is getting ready for the Kirinskoye gas and condensate field development as part of the Sakhalin III project. Earlier it had been planned to put the field onstream in 2014, but later on the Company decided to move the startup over to 2011.

Subsea production technologies will be applied in the Kirinskoye field for the first time in Russia. Vladimir Vovk, Head of the Directorate for Offshore Fields Development Technology in his interview to the website told how widely these technologies were used in the world and explained why the particular subsea production system had been chosen for construction in this very area:

Why has Gazprom decided to move the commissioning of the Kirinskoye GCF over from 2014 to 2011?

The gas and condensate field commissioning is synchronized with the end of the trunkline construction in 2011 determining the need of its development within the shortest timeframe which is quite reasonable.

Why was the decision taken in favor of the subsea production system?

Subsea hydrocarbon production technologies development began in the mid 1970s. The subsea wellhead equipment was used in the Gulf of Mexico for the first time ever. Having shown reliability of engineering solutions for subsea production after several years of service, the respective equipment was widely used in various offshore areas: from northern seas to southern latitudes.

According to analysts, there is an ever increasing demand for subsea production systems. This is the fact that speaks well both for the reliability of this equipment and economic efficiency of its utilization.

The subsea production technologies allowed avoiding significant risks in adverse natural and climatic conditions, for instance typhoons in South-East Asia and icebergs offshore Canada. Freezing seas of Russia with navigation period only 3 to 4 months long simply have no other option but these subsea systems.

This technology is unprecedented in Russia. Do you feel confident about its efficiency and safety?

One shouldn't be under a delusion that Gazprom has taken a hasty decision on the subsea production technologies implementation. This issue has been studied over a long period of time.

In 2000 the Company's management resolved to create a Subsea Engineering and Deepwater Technology Division. It is engaged in subsea production technologies research, analysis of the world's innovative developments in this field justifying their implementation in Gazprom's promising offshore projects as well as in regulatory support.

The accident in the Gulf of Mexico happened within recent memory. Does the subsea production systems utilization have the risks of similar accidents?

What happened in the Gulf of Mexico is quite a different story. As is known, the reason of the accident at BP's drilling rig was a human factor to a large extent. A lot of mistakes have been made in human resource management and a lot of wrong decisions have been taken that finally triggered the tragedy. We will certainly factor the risk of such mistakes that may occur.

At the same time we are convinced that utilization of subsea production systems is safe. It is obvious that such sophisticated new technologies require highly qualified personnel. Therefore, when recruiting staff for such projects we favor the engineers with vast operational experience.

Are there any examples of similar projects with FMC equipment, how long has it been used, is it reliable?

I should note that there are several companies manufacturing subsea production equipment in the world.

Drilling rig in the Kirinskoye field
Drilling rig in the Kirinskoye field

Drilling rig in the Kirinskoye field

These are FMC Kongsberg Subsea AS, Aker Solutions, GE Vetco Gray and Cameron. Each of them would like to operate offshore Russia. In this specific case the selection was made in favor of FMC Kongsberg Subsea AS. But it doesn't mean that other contenders have lost an opportunity to participate in Russia's offshore projects.

The companies compete in a free market. All of them manufacture reliable, time-proven subsea production equipment and may bid for the equipment supply tender.

So far as it concerns subsea production equipment use within the existing projects, one can give a lot of examples. I should mention that this equipment is widely used both for gas, gas condensate and oil production.

Thus, such equipment is used in the Norwegian Ormen Lange gas and condensate field with sea depth varying from 800 to 1,100 meters at a distance of 120 kilometers off the coast. Having considered several options with a view to reach economic efficiency, a decision was taken to develop the field using a fully-submerged production system with multi-phase flow transmission onshore. 24 subsea well completions on 4 seafloor templates are connected through a manifold and two 30-inch gas pipelines with an onshore gas treatment facility in Nihamne. Further on, gas is conveyed to Great Britain via the 1,200-kilometer-long offshore pipeline. The field was put onstream in 2005. A subsea compressor station is to be installed in Ormen Lange in 2015 to ensure the gas production plateau. The prototype of the subsea compressor station designed by Aker Solutions is currently being tested.

Separate subsea well

Separate subsea well

Subsea production equipment of FMC Kongsberg Subsea AS has been used since 2001 in the oil field of the Angolan Girassol shelf with sea depth reaching 1,400 meters. The field development plan envisages implementation of a floating storage and offloading unit.

Fully submerged production technology is implemented on the Norwegian Shohvit offshore field. The equipment for this project was delivered by GE Vecto Gray.

Subsea production systems were delivered to the Norwegian Goliat offshore field by Aker Solutions.

There are over 130 offshore fields in the world now that use subsea production technologies combined with gravity-based or floating fully-submerged production platforms.

The amount of the equipment supplies increases every year. The subsea production technologies are feasible, reliable and environmentally safe as evidenced by accident-free operation in various regions of the World Ocean over many years. However, the reliable operation of the subsea production systems is ensured not by engineering solutions and manufacturing quality alone but by a complex system of service maintenance as well.

Will Gazprom implement similar technologies in other fields?

Certainly. The gas industry research and design institutes are working to find the most efficient and reliable techniques for offshore fields development. The Shtokman field development project envisages the implementation of the subsea production technologies. Subsea production equipment suppliers are currently bidding for the tender held by Shtokman Development AG.

These technologies were studied for further implementation in the field development projects offshore Yamal. The subsea hydrocarbon production technologies are promising for the Caspian Sea shelf fields as well.

Will foreign state-of-the-art technologies application contribute to realizing Russia's technological potential?

I wish I could answer this question unambiguously as these technologies are a quantum leap for Russian science and the industry in general, but everything is not so simple. It is not just hard work in engineering and production that stands behind the statement about the Russian scientific and technological potential development.

We are to work out multiple regulatory and managerial issues including those at the state level. Implementation of innovative technologies approaching the reliability level achieved in the space industry is a delicate intellectual process that requires every point to be worked out in advance.

Gazprom website Editorial Board