Boris Posyagin: We have developed a clear action plan

April 12, 2011

On April 12 the Central Operations and Dispatch Department (CODD) of Gazprom celebrates its 50th anniversary. Boris Posyagin has been in charge of this structural unit for nearly 17 years now.

Located at the Gazprom headquarters in Nametkina Street, his office doesn’t look noticeable at first glance. But in a moment you see a huge wall-size glass. It is opaque and hides the view beyond the office.

Mr. Posyagin presses a hidden button and suddenly the glass becomes transparent – and an amazing sight comes into view. A huge screen displays the maps of Russia and Europe with green lines on them – gas pipelines stretching for hundreds of thousands of kilometers from Russia to Europe.

This is the CODD dispatch room – the heart and the arms of Russia’s Unified Gas Supply System (UGSS). This is the place where gas transmission flows are coordinated to ensure that gas from Yamal could securely reach Europe and the citizens of Altai and Orel felt warm in their houses if the air temperature in the region suddenly falls.

Mr. Posyagin has been employed in the gas industry for over 40 years now. In 1994 he was appointed Head of the Operations and Dispatch Center for the UGSS that was transformed into the CODD in 2003.

Boris Posyagin told us about the emergence of the UGSS dispatch and control, what this system looks like now and about Gazprom’s plans concerning its development.

Mr. Posyagin, in April the round-the-clock dispatch and control system for the UGSS will be half a century old. How did it all begin?

The era of natural gas started in Russia in the 1940s. Construction of the first gas trunkline linking Saratov to Moscow was launched in 1944. On June 11, 1946 a gas flare was lighted in the settlement of Razvilka near Moscow as the evidence that natural gas from Saratov reached Moscow.

Saratov – Moscow gas pipeline construction, 1944
Saratov – Moscow gas pipeline construction, 1944

Saratov – Moscow gas pipeline construction, 1944

A dispatch service was set up to supervise this gas pipeline. It controlled operation of the process equipment and recorded the amounts of gas transmission.

It would be wrong to say the dispatch and control system emerged at that time. Back in the 1930s there were facilities in the country for artificial shale gas production. An urban gas distribution system was shaped in Moscow and several other cities. City grids were supervised by the dispatch services coordinating gas supplies. The Saratov – Moscow gas pipeline dispatch service assumed their experience.

In the early 1950s Moscow was supplied with gas from Western Ukrainian fields via the Dashava – Kiev – Bryansk – Moscow gas pipeline. The dispatch service expanded its authority that nevertheless, was limited to control over the operation mode and metering of gas amounts supplied to Moscow. The specialists that run machinery and equipment received orders directly from the chief dispatcher and provided him with the process information. An employee from Glavgaz gave phone calls to gas trunkline operation centers and put down the gas pressure values in certain points.

In 1956 the two-string Stavropol – Moscow gas pipeline was commissioned. The pipeline sections were operated by different centers located in Rostov, Novopskov, Semiluki and Shchekino. Such operation inconsistency provoked a lot of problems and Moscow Gas Trunkline Operation Center (MGTOC), present Gazprom transgaz Moscow, was finally created on the basis of the Saratov – Moscow Gas Pipeline Control Center. The MGTOC assumed the responsibility for the Stavropol – Moscow gas pipeline. In fact, the MGTOC arranged dispatch and control over several gas pipelines. This particular structural unit was the prototype of the present dispatch and control system. There was created the dispatch service embracing online dispatch and control, the gas balance group and the gas supply metering group.

Connection of new consumers outran the continued construction of gas trunklines and gas consumption increased rapidly. As a result, Moscow first experienced the gas shortage in the winter of 1959.

The first underground gas storage facilities (Shchelkovkoye and Kaluzhskoye) intended for flattening out the winter gas consumption peaks were at the development stage then. Therefore, a need emerged to integrate the existing gas pipelines into a single system. In the late 1950s – early 1960s construction of gas pipeline interconnectors was launched enabling to manipulate gas flows by sending them from one system into another. This laid the cornerstone for the USSR Unified Gas Supply System.

The dispatch and control system featured three levels at that moment: a dispatch service for gas trunklines supervision, a dispatch service for regional compressor stations supervision, a shift engineer and a machine operator.

Gradually, as the industry developed the dispatch and control system became more advanced and complex. Commissioning of new gas pipelines was accompanied by creation of central dispatch services, shift personnel operated compressor stations in the round-the-clock mode, but their responsibility was confined to separate gas pipelines. The need emerged to create a single dispatch center. The idea came into being in 1960 when the Integrated Dispatch and Control Center (IDCC) was created under the USSR Glavgaz. The IDCC was vested with the responsibility to coordinate the entire system of gas trunklines, ensure sustained gas supply to consumers as well as to maintain a communications network at the gas industry facilities.

The first shift of the IDCC dispatchers took up duty on April 12, 1961 at 8 am. At 10 am the world heard of the first human spaceflight by Yury Gagarin. Since then, the work of the dispatch service never ceased just for a minute.

MGTOC Chief Engineer Dzabo Alikov became the first head of IDCC.

The four-level structure of dispatch and control was arranged. The first level was the IDCC that issued directives for all levels. The second level was the dispatch service for gas trunklines supervision, the third level – a dispatch service for regional compressor stations supervision and the fourth level – a shift engineer and a machine operator. This structure has been preserved until today.

How greatly has the system changed over the past years from the technical point of view?

Naturally, the system has dramatically changed over the years of its evolvement. In the beginning, dispatchers only had a copybook and a phone.

In 1972 the USSR Gas Industry Minister Sabit Orudzhev signed the order on renaming the IDCC into the Operations Control and Dispatch Center (OCDC). Thus, the dispatch system was vested with the control responsibility.

Commissioning of new gas pipelines and creation of interconnectors produced the need to calculate operation modes of several gas pipelines simultaneously. This required to prepare a calculating machine, calculating formulas and algorithms. Such calculations were made manually at that time.

On June 1, 1973 the Dispatch and Control Center (DCC) for the USSR UGSS was set up. In those years gas export to Europe was initiated, the Soyuz gas pipeline was under construction and new gas fields in Orenburg and northern Tyumen Oblast were put into operation. Meanwhile, dispatchers still worked using only a phone. With an increase in the data processed their copybooks turned into long sheets of paper.

Soyuzgazavtomatika Scientific and Production Association was tasked to develop an Automated Dispatch and Control System (ADCS) for the UGSS, the first one of the kind in the history of the gas industry. The pilot project was developed for the Central Asia – Center gas pipeline. In fact, it represented a special telegraph system. Data was conveyed via phone to operations centers and associations, recorded there on paper tape and transmitted to the Main Computer Center of the USSR Gas Industry Ministry. The Main Computer Center data was printed by specialized machines and transferred to the DCC as a summary. Such a system existed over 1976 to 1988 with various changes and upgrades made.

Between 1985 and 1988 the automated system for process information acquisition, transfer, processing and display was developed and adopted. It was fundamentally different from the previous one. Despite the fact that the information was still generated by the companies involved in gas production and transmission, the communications methods had changed. This system still exists though some updates have been made in it.

Central Operations and Dispatch Department in 1980s. Movie shot
Central Operations and Dispatch Department in 1980s. Movie shot

Central Operations and Dispatch Department in 1980s. Movie shot

In 1989 the USSR Gas Industry Ministry was transformed into the State Gas Concern Gazprom. On January 22, 1990 the DCC for the USSR UGSS was renamed the Operations and Dispatch Center (ODC) under State Gas Concern Gazprom with a branch – the IDCC in the city of Tyumen.

In 1995 creation of the new Automated Dispatch and Control System (ADCS) for the UGSS was launched. In 1997 we switched from paper logs to electronic dispatch logs. At first it was difficult, dispatchers got used to notes written on a piece of paper and it took us much effort to wean them off this paperwork.

The IT development enabled us to obtain data in the real-time mode by 1996. In 1998 RAO Gazprom was renamed OAO Gazprom. In 2003 the ODC was transformed into the CODD of Gazprom.

Nowadays, the CODD in cooperation with dispatch services from Gazprom’s subsidiaries and other gas companies is responsible for supplying “blue fuel” to Russia and dozens of other European and Asian countries as well. Over 0.5 billion people in the CIS and Europe are engaged in the CODD dispatch operations.

At Central Operations and Dispatch Department room, 2000s
At Central Operations and Dispatch Department room, 2000s

At Central Operations and Dispatch Department room, 2000s

How promptly does the UGSS operation data is updated in the CODD now? How do you deal with incidents and emergencies? How much time does it take to convey this data to the head office?

At present, the dispatch information can be updated daily, in sessions (every two hours) or in a real-time mode (every fifteen minutes). In the real-time mode we currently receive around 70 per cent of the necessary information. Upon adoption of the upgraded ADCS by the end of the next year, this indicator will rise to 100 per cent.

What are the key qualities of a dispatcher? How crucial is the human factor for you, taking into account a high level of automation and technical support of dispatch operations?

Nowadays, a dispatcher should be competent in gas production and transmission technologies, have a good understanding of automated control and IT.

Unfortunately, such experts haven’t been educated in universities until recently as there were no theoretical bases for dispatch and control. Therefore, we train such experts ourselves and send them to advanced training.

Each of Gazprom’s production facilities has a dispatcher unit
Each of Gazprom’s production facilities has a dispatcher unit

Each of Gazprom’s production facilities has a dispatcher unit

All experts involved in the CODD activities have an extensive experience. There are no postgraduates among our dispatchers. All of them are skillful in the UGSS facilities operation, they know what an emergency situation is and how to act in a trouble.

This means there is no staff turnover, right?

No, there isn’t. A lot of people have been working for the CODD for many years now. We are a good and friendly team.

How many people work at the CODD dispatch consoles simultaneously?

Each shift consists of six people. There is one woman in each shift. One dispatcher supervises production operations, the second dispatcher – transmission operations in the central region, the third dispatcher – gas exports, and the fourth dispatcher is responsible for underground gas storage. That is, every person has his/her own responsibility area. The chief dispatcher accumulates all the information and is obliged to respond to any question concerning the process issues at any time of day and night.

Depending on the importance of the situation, the data is reported either directly to the Management Committee Chairman or to his Deputies. My first assistant and I are obligatorily informed irrelevant of the scale and severity of the emergency and the time of day.

At that moment a loud phone bell sounded in the office. Boris Posyagin took the call at once – after so many years of work here he knows how important the immediate response is. It was Alexey Miller calling. Having talked to the Management Committee Chairman for several minutes, Mr. Posyagin gave several instructions to his employees and we continued the interview. This time we touched on the current business.

Probably you can be summoned here in the midnight?

Yes, it happened so several times.

How do you deal with incidents and emergencies? How fast does the information concerning a pipeline incident reach the CODD and how promptly do you make decisions on the gas flow redirection?

We have elaborated a clear action plan for emergencies and incidents. Every operations and dispatch service has an Emergency Response Plan with specific measures to be taken by the dispatch personnel in various emergencies. The personnel receive obligatory training on emergency response, incident response drills are held on a regular basis.

There is an emergency communication plan for managers and employees. The warning is made primarily by automated systems Nabat, Kolokol and others.

The CODD receives the emergency information in 3 to 7 minutes. The period of time required to localize emergency areas depends on specialized equipment availability at the facility. In case a remote control system is available, the emergency area is shut off within several minutes; if such a system is absent the emergency measures may last for an hour.

After the CODD receives the information, we take a decision on redirection of gas flows and additional loading of parallel gas pipeline routes if they exist. The transmission mode is changed within 1 to 2 hours or 3 hours at most.

Of course, major incidents occurred. Thus, in May 1994 as a result of an incident at the Torbeyevo metering hub, 4 out of 6 gas pipeline strings broke down. We redistributed the gas volumes very promptly and fully loaded the adjacent transmission routes. As a result, none of the exports applications was rejected.

We have an intercom line with all of the dispatch services of subsidiary companies, with each compressor station, each metering hub and each field.

It’s worth mentioning that gas transmission facilities are specific for a certain time delay. Sometimes it’s a hindrance, sometimes it’s helpful. During an emergency shutdown of a gas transmission section the CODD dispatcher has some time available to take the right decisions, take the management opinion and give timely instructions.

Many renowned persons from Russia and other countries paid a visit to the Gazprom CODD room. Who was remembered most? Which guestbook note is particularly memorable to you?

Indeed, our Guestbook holds a lot of cordial words put down by well-known Russian and foreign politicians and public figures, it’s hard to distinguish any particular person. The first note in the Guestbook was made by the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in 1996. He wished us “to cover the whole planet with the web of pipelines and to make profit on it”. It’s also worth mentioning the first visit by Vladimir Putin to the CODD room in 2000 and his keen interest in the entire business. A US delegation that once visited in the CODD room was impressed by our system – a lot of private gas companies operate in the USA, but they don’t have such an integrated dispatch center. Spacemen were here as well. Our equipment could be compared with that of the Mission Control Center, they noted.

Vladimir Putin visiting Central Operations and Dispatch Department on January 13, 2009
Vladimir Putin visiting Central Operations and Dispatch Department on January 13, 2009

Vladimir Putin visiting Central Operations and Dispatch Department on January 13, 2009

A US delegation that once visited in the CODD room was impressed by our system – a lot of private gas companies operate in the USA, but they don’t have such an integrated dispatch center. Spacemen were here as well. Our equipment could be compared with that of the Mission Control Center, they noted.

I think the Guestbook notes provide a clear image of the world’s modern history. We have a thick book, there is still enough space in it and I hope a lot of famous people will put down their warm wishes there.

What are the specific features of the UGSS? How does gas consumption in Russia change when the air temperature rises or falls just one degree Celsius? What are the differences in the CODD operation during winter and summer periods?

The winter and the summer operation modes differ considerably. It’s not right to say that the summer operation mode is easier as far as the dispatch and control process is concerned. Winter periods are featured by the maximum gas consumption both in Russia and abroad. The gas production, underground storage and transmission capacities are fully loaded.

Seasonal fluctuations in gas consumption are getting more acute every year. This is explained by the fact that the household sector is expanding its share in gas consumption, while previously the major consumers were the manufacturing industry and the power generation industry.

The long-year observations reveal that one degree Celsius temperature drop throughout Russia during the winter period leads to a daily gas consumption increase by 25 to 40 million cubic meters, which equals to the amount consumed by the Volgograd Oblast, for instance.

In the summer period large-scale scheduled maintenance starts. The dispatch services are responsible for coordinating this work with, for instance, independent gas producers. The activities needing gas flow reduction within the gas transmission system are referred to as a separate set of operations. We accomplish up to 20 sets over the summer period.

CODD dispatch room, 2011
CODD dispatch room, 2011

CODD dispatch room, 2011

How many days does it take to convey natural gas from the Nadym-Pur-Taz fields to Moscow, Germany or the UK?

Gas is conveyed by gas trunklines at the speed of approximately 30 to 40 kilometers per hour. It means that natural gas recovered from the Nadym-Pur-Taz fields will come to Moscow in 3 days, to Berlin – in 5 days and to Paris and Rome – in 7 days. This is related to certain challenges faced by dispatch services. The following abilities are needed to satisfy foreign consumer demand: forecasts, simulation and timely accumulation of the relevant gas amounts in pipelines as close to consumers as possible.

Please, provide a specific example of the gas transmission process optimization using the replacement of one gas amount by the other with involvement of underground gas storage facilities.

The UGSS stretches for kilometers and comprises many components operated in various modes. Besides, simultaneous repair operations are conducted at several sections of the UGSS facilities all the time. Therefore, optimization of the gas transmission system is a continuous process.

As a recent example of replacing one gas amount by the other with the use of underground gas storage facilities I may describe the current switching of gas flows caused by the necessity to remove from service some pipeline sections needing repair within the Urengoy – Chelyabinsk system of Gazprom transgaz Surgut. Other gas transmission companies of Gazprom were involved in the process as well. Low gas transmission via the GTS owned by Gazprom transgaz Surgut in the amount of 44 million cubic meters per day was offset by enhanced gas transmission from the Nadym-Pur-Taz fields via the gas transmission systems of Gazprom transgaz Yugorsk and Gazprom transgaz Tchaikovsky. The arising fluctuations were flattened out by changes in gas withdrawal from underground gas storage facilities – the Kanchurinskoye and Saratovskoye UGS facilities were used for this purpose. Switching was conducted in full compliance with the scheme and no complications occurred.

How do you coordinate activities with dispatch services from importing and transiting countries? Which transmission operators are ready to share remotely measured data on the GTS status?

Between 1999 and 2000 agreements on interaction were signed with many European gas production and transmission companies. Gazprom’s dispatch centers were set up abroad in Sofia and Berlin to service foreign consumers of Russian gas. These centers operate efficiently under the CODD supervision.

The CODD in cooperation with Gazprom export annually holds dispatch meetings in different countries to deal with the issues of dispatch interaction during Russian gas transmission to Europe. Such meetings address a lot of issues surrounding the dispatch data sharing, coordination of equipment operation modes and participation in joint apprenticeship programs.

International meetings are annually held by Gazprom export to coordinate the repair schedule for gas transit systems. The CODD is an active participant of these meetings. Coordination of the schedules minimizes the transmission-related gas losses during repair activities.

Gazprom Group has several dispatch centers. How do they relate to each other?

Each of Gazprom’s gas production or gas transmission company, such as Gazprom pererabotka, Gazprom mezhregiongaz, etc., has a dispatch service. These services interact with each other and share information, their experts often know each other personally.

As you know, Gazprom is a vertically integrated structure. The similar hierarchy is established in the dispatch system. There are many operations and dispatch services, centers and control rooms, and we are named the Central Department because we act as the sole coordinator for all operations and dispatch structures in Russia and abroad.

How do you shape the maintenance schedules related to a full range of facilities from upstream to downstream, and how do you supervise gas transmission flows during scheduled maintenance? What role does the CODD play in scheduling and implementing the repair and maintenance activities?

The scope of scheduled maintenance and repair operations at gas trunklines grew steadily in parallel with the UGSS development. To ensure their synchronized execution a decision was taken in spring 1981 to arrange and conduct the sets of repair operations (sets of scheduled maintenance operations). The DCC specialists received repair applications, analyzed them and divided operations by gas transmission systems and coordinated their deadlines. At the appointed time the gas amounts conveyed via one GTS were redistributed into other GTSs and synchronized scheduled maintenance operations began along the entire GTS. This helped significantly decrease the inevitable gas losses.

This approach extended over the foreign gas transmission systems, although it took them some time to realize the benefits of such an approach. Sometimes, even ridiculous situations occurred when the Czech GTS shut down for a 5 day repair, two weeks later the Slovak GTS shut down and a week after that – a gas metering station in Italy. Thus, the consumers were left three times without the requested gas volumes. At present, the Europe-wide maintenance schedule is coordinated every year.

Do you remember any interesting, funny or extreme situations related to dispatch and control?

I can’t name any funny situation in dispatch and control simply because they shouldn’t happen here at all. As a rule, a funny situation happens when the information obtained by an employee is misinterpreted or insufficient, which results in wrong actions. You know yourself that this is absolutely unacceptable in the work of dispatch personnel.

As for emergency incidents, they really took place. We all well remember the situation of the early 2009, when gas supply to Ukraine was halted through no fault of our own. It required us to promptly redirect gas flows practically in all the UGSS sections and work out and implement the transmission schemes we had never applied before. For example, in January we began gas injection into underground gas storage facilities. We had very little time to complete the work, while preventing even a slightest negative exposure of the UGSS operability. I think that all the challenges the dispatch services faced in those hard times have been overcome in a very skillful manner.

What are your plans concerning further development of the operations and dispatch complex? Will you focus on cutting-edge IT solutions?

The development plans for the Company’s dispatch and control system are nowadays related to adoption and development of the Gazprom Informatization Strategy. This long-term and large-scale program pays attention to dispatch and control as well. By now, we are implementing Phase 2 modernization of the existing Automated Dispatch and Control System. The project implementation deadline is 2012. Development and introduction of other projects in gas production and transmission and their synchronization with the ADCS project will create a new comprehensive dispatch and control system.

Gazprom website Editorial Board