Power of Siberia: inside look

December 2, 2020

A full year has passed since the ceremonial launch of the Power of Siberia gas pipeline.

The pipeline is more than an artery for transporting the “blue fuel.” The project was conceived and is being implemented as a key part of the Eastern Gas Program, whose main goals are to create a gas industry and foster economic growth in Eastern Siberia and Russia’s Far East, to expand gas infrastructure to establish a new export channel, to set up modern production facilities, and to generate jobs.

The gas trunkline, which currently stretches for more than 2,000 kilometers, is already giving a strong impetus to the development of several regions in eastern Russia. Among them is the Amur Region. One can say without exaggeration that Power of Siberia has opened a new page in the region’s history. And so we came there to see the gas pipeline at work.

In the 17th century, the area now known as the Amur Region was discovered by the Cossack brigades of Vasily Poyarkov and Yerofey Khabarov. In the late 19th to early 20th centuries, the Trans-Siberian Railway was built here. Later in the 20th century, the region saw another landmark construction project – the Baikal–Amur Mainline. Now, in the 21st century, the Amur Region has taken an important place on Russia’s gas map thanks to the newly-built facilities of Power of Siberia.

Construction was carried out in uninhabited areas where forests alternate with swamps and wild meadows give way to hills. The man-made structures – roads, bridges, power and communication lines – were built from the ground up. This has been a great boon to the region’s engineering and transport infrastructure.

Power of Siberia’s compressor stations (CSs) were named in honor of the pioneers of the Far East. The pipeline section that is already active will have eight CSs: Ivan Rebrov, Pyotr Beketov, Maxim Perfilyev, Ivan Moskvitin, Vasily Poyarkov, Yerofey Khabarov, and Vasily Kolesnikov. The eighth and biggest station is named Atamanskaya. It is already in operation. The Atamanskaya CS occupies 12 hectares of land – approximately five times the area of Red Square in Moscow.

If we think about a gas supply system as a living organism, a compressor station pumps gas through pipes like a heart pumps blood through veins. Here, the “blue fuel” is purified, compressed, cooled and sent on its way.

The main component of a compressor station is a gas compressor unit (GCU). Atamanskaya has five GCUs: two with a capacity of 16 MW and three with a capacity of 32 MW. This range of capacities gives the CS operational flexibility.

The 16 MW units (GCU-16U) are based on upgraded aircraft engines. They are manufactured in Perm.

The 32 MW units (GCU-32 Ladoga) are produced at Nevsky Zavod in St. Petersburg. Hence, they are named after Lake Ladoga, one of the largest lakes in Europe. The GCUs were designed specifically for the Russian gas industry. Although they were developed quite recently, they have already proven reliable: turbines of this make have been successfully used by Gazprom for 10 years. The Ladoga compressor spins at about 95 revolutions per second – roughly four times faster than the drum of your washing machine.

Ladoga units at Atamanskaya are easily recognizable even from a distance thanks to their blue caps resembling a pagoda.

Let us take a bird’s-eye view of the station. Can you see the yellow pipes extending from every block and sloping into the ground?

These pipes carry gas that has been fully prepared for the consumer – stripped of impurities, compressed and cooled – at a speed of 10.5 meters per second.

All utility systems at a compressor station, including gas pipes and cable assemblies, are placed on pipe racks. This makes it easier and safer for workers to reach any section of the networks for inspections and preventive operations.

In order to control the functioning of the station’s complex organism, highly-qualified professionals from all over Russia arrived here as early as at the construction stage. One of them is Maxim Egorov, Deputy Head of the Atamanskaya CS. Prior to this, he spent 10 years working at a subsidiary of Gazprom in Yekaterinburg. He was transferred to Gazprom Transgaz Tomsk (operator of the Power of Siberia gas pipeline) in April 2019, when the construction was in its final phase. “At the time, hundreds of people were working on-site simultaneously,” he says. “Right there, it felt like I became a part of a grand history.”

Atamanskaya is an “intelligent” station: technological processes are automated to the maximum extent possible, capable of acting almost without human oversight. This is what its main control panel looks like. The workings of every mechanism are plainly visible on a dozen of monitors. Currently, there are several specialists in the room. Generally, however, one shift engineer is enough to control the equipment. Unmanned technologies in action.

Work at the CS never stops, not even for a single minute. When the sun goes down, the night shift begins.

As soon as it gets dark, spotlights at the tops of the rigs are turned on. They make the station visible from afar, like a lighthouse at sea.

Atamanskaya is just one of Power of Siberia’s many facilities. It would take longer than a day of traveling across picturesque forests, plains and hills to see every link of this technological chain.

There are five pipeline operation centers (POCs) on the gas trunkline’s route. We visited one of them – the Svobodnenskoye POC. These centers serve as control hubs responsible for the uninterrupted operation of the gas pipeline.

POCs are home to worker brigades that perform preventive maintenance and, if required, repairs on the pipeline. In this POC, you can see a long row of hangars housing all necessary heavy vehicles, from pipe-layers (seen in the foreground) to fire engines and snow and swamp-going vehicles.

This large satellite allows continuous communications via a group of Gazprom’s space satellites named Yamal.

This is the dispatch room. Here, nearly everything is performed by electronic systems. Nevertheless, a human presence is still required: a specialist constantly keeps track of the parameters displayed, analyzes them, and communicates with other services.

The monitor shows over 150 parameters, such as pressure, temperature, and condition of valves. In case of any abnormalities, sound and light alarms are activated.

For cases when a section of the gas pipeline needs to be shut off – for instance, during preventive maintenance – shut-off valves are installed on the pipeline. Svobodnenskoye is in charge of 18 such valves. The dispatcher can open and close those valves remotely. Pipeline sections undergo preventive maintenance on a regular basis, for instance, before the winter period. This has the same goal as hydraulic tests of heating systems in the cities: to confirm that the system is in working order at the outset of the cold season.

For maximum reliability, computer communications between the dispatch room and valve sites are provided through three channels: fiber optic, radio relay, and satellite.

In addition, the center’s specialists regularly visit valve sites to inspect equipment.

Besides, the automated processes can be switched to manual mode if necessary.

No matter how advanced and sophisticated the equipment may be, the most precious asset of Gazprom is its people. This is why the highest possible level of comfort is provided for the POC’s employees both in their work and leisure activities. Right within the area of the Svobodnenskoye POC, next to the dispatch office and technical facilities, there is a camp for shift workers that has a three-storey dormitory with 150 apartment rooms. We spent a few days in the dormitory to see for ourselves how cozy it is.

Most rooms are singles, each equipped with a WC-and-shower unit. When the workers return from a shift, they can have a rest in a calm and comfortable atmosphere. This photo shows engineer Yury Kinzersky who chose to complete another level in a video game.

The workers do not have to cook, as they have a canteen on the first floor. The canteen’s cooks perfectly know the preferences of the dormitory residents, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. 

The menu is updated every day, but it always includes meat and fish dishes, soups, vitamin-rich salads, and kompot drinks.

To get some exercise between the shifts, the workers can go to a sports complex. It is located in a separate building and has a sports hall, a workout room, showers and lockers.

Here, one can find everything needed to stay fit: kettlebells, dumbbells, and cardio equipment.

Interior works are now nearing completion in the sports hall, which only needs the finishing touch, i.e. the flooring to be laid. Basketball hoops and football goal posts will be installed shortly. Soon, the sports hall will be ready to host team competitions.

It is a three hours’ drive from the POC to the gas metering station of Power of Siberia. And farther on, across the Amur River, lies China.

In essence, the gas metering station is a huge gas meter that records the amount of fuel exported.

The accuracy of measurements is ensured by the cutting-edge metering devices that are located in this technological block. Eight gas flow meter runs pass through metal cabinets in which gas meters are installed.

From the gas metering station the blue fuel goes to China The gas transmission systems of the two countries meet under the Amur River. To prevent any damage to the fragile ecosystem, a special tunnel for the gas trunkline was built at a depth of 20 meters under the riverbed.

The gas coming to the Amur Region from Eastern Siberia’s fields is multi-component. Apart from methane, it contains ethane, propane, butane, pentane-hexane fraction, and helium. To extract these valuable components, the construction of the Amur Gas Processing Plant (GPP) was launched 20 kilometers away from the town of Svobodny. The project, which started from scratch in 2015, will bring another new branch of industry to the region.

The plant occupies more than 800 hectares of land. This area is large enough to easily accommodate 1,100 football fields.

After the construction is completed, the Amur GPP will process 42 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year. The plant’s capacity will be among the largest in the world.

The components extracted from natural gas will be used as feedstock for all sorts of products, such as polyethylene, polypropylene, various types of plastics, synthetic rubbers, high-octane fuel, solvents, and lubricants.

The separation of components will take place in these gas separation columns. The highest column, which will be used for methane separation, is almost as tall as a 30-storey building.

The Amur GPP is destined to be an all-time record-setter in the production of the most valuable component of natural gas, namely, helium (up to 60 million cubic meters per year). Helium is in demand in many high-tech sectors: microelectronics, healthcare, and the space industry.

Helium will be carried by KAMAZ-5490 Neo helium trucks, which have been specially developed in Russia for this purpose and are powered by eco-friendly liquefied natural gas The freight trucks are equipped with containers maintaining the ultra-low temperature of minus 269 degrees Celsius. Helium will be delivered from the Amur GPP to the world’s largest helium hub near Vladivostok, and the hub will send helium containers to the customers by sea.

In 2020, the plant construction activities are at their peak. Over 30,000 people are concurrently working at the construction site, nearly as many as live in the district’s capital city. The overall readiness of the Amur GPP construction project is nearing 70 per cent.

According to calculations, the total amount of the steel structures used in the plant construction is enough to build 23 Eiffel Towers.

Notably, the Amur GPP is being built with due attention given to the preservation of Far Eastern nature. Eco-friendliness is one of the key principles of Gazprom. Even before the launch of the construction works, meticulous environmental research was performed here, during which water, air and soil samples were taken and the local flora and fauna were studied.

The data gathered during the research now serve as a benchmark against which laboratories compare the data obtained during regular monitoring of the areas adjacent to the construction site. The environmental safety of the Amur GPP construction is confirmed by over 2,000 samples.

The implementation of gas-based megaprojects creates new permanent jobs in the Amur Region, and their number will keep growing.

The future employees of the Amur GPP will live in a new microdistrict in the town of Svobodny. The microdistrict will have 36 townhouses and 42 apartment buildings for 5,000 people, as well as a kindergarten, a school, a medical center, a sports complex, and a culture and leisure center, which are now under construction.

Just like the pioneers did, Gazprom systematically unlocks the potential of using natural gas – an ecologically safe energy source – in the east of Russia. Power of Siberia, stretching from the Lena River to the Amur River, is not going to end its journey through Russia. The second stage is the construction of an 800-kilometer pipeline section that will link two major eastern fields – the Chayandinskoye field in Yakutia and the Kovyktinskoye field in the Irkutsk Region. And there is no doubt that all of the ambitious targets set for Power of Siberia will be achieved.

Slava Stepanov, Vyacheslav Gorchakov, Gazprom website Editorial Board

For large size images, see the photo album.