In October 2009 TNK-BP Board of Directors endorsed investment of over $400 mln for the initial phase of the program to implement Yamal Projects which are to become a Company’s major production center in future. However development of Russkoye, Suzun and Tagul fields is complicated not only by lack of infrastructure but also by the severe climate.
At the same time international oil and gas industry has examples of successful operations beyond the Arctic Circle. For instance, BP has been operating its Prudhoe Bay field in Alaska for over 30 years. TNK-BP specialists visited the field in October.
In October 2009 a group of TNK-BP specialists visited Prudhoe Bay, a BP operated field in Alaska. The Russian experts found the experience of their foreign colleagues very useful: the technologies used in Alaska have proved their efficiency over time as the field has been in operation for over 30 years.
The climate in Yamal where TNK-BP's Russkoye, Suzun and Tagul fields are located is similar to that in Alaska. One of the main constraints hindering implementation of Yamal projects is lack of infrastructure for oil export from the fields. The Company is now considering the possibility to obtain access to Rosneft’s Vankor pipeline which runs through the territory of Tagul. Construction of a pipeline from Suzun to Vankor will form an important part of the federal program for Yamal fields development and will allow production from the Company's prospective assets.
Pipeline Integrity: Above and Under the Surface
Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) was first commissioned in 1978 to collect oil from Alaska North Slope fields, including Prudhoe Bay. The length of the pipeline exceeds 1,200 km, it crosses three mountain ranges and about 800 rivers, streams, or drainages running through the territory of unique environmentally sensitive areas. For over 600 km the pipeline runs above ground being mounted on supports. The above ground design proves its worth during operation: in case of an incident the failure location can be easily detected and measures taken. Moreover, placing the pipeline above the surface prevents thawing of the permafrost and ground subsidence.
It should be noted that the pipeline runs through some seismically active regions where earthquakes may measure 9 on the Richter Scale. BP specialists accounted for this at the design stage and now the above ground sections of the pipeline are put on sliding supports to prevent their damage in case of a strong earthquake. The intra-field pipelines are fitted with special oscillation dampers to protect the pipeline integrity in case of a strong wind.
The BP experience will undoubtedly be taken into account in Yamal projects. Besides, the project team intends to use the best practice of Rosneft which started operation and monitoring of its Vankor oil pipeline in August 2009. The oil pipeline from Suzun to Vankor will be 78 km to 118 km long (the length will depend on the selected route) and will include three major river crossings. Whether these will be above ground or buried is yet to be defined.
Infrastructure Setup beyond the Arctic Circle
During their visit to Alaska TNK-BP specialists also had an opportunity to learn about field development technologies; some of them will be tested in Yamal in the nearest future.
For instance, Prudhoe Bay wells are fitted with special thermocases to prevent wellbore thawing and subsidence. This helped reduce the distance between wells from 20 m to 5 m (this is the minimum distance a drilling rig can make) thus reducing the well pad size as well as development costs as less materials are needed for pads construction. This is relevant for Yamal projects due to shortage of soil for land development in the region. Reduction of the expenses for soil delivery to site will translate into additional reduction of well pad construction costs.
However the Russian GOST standard owned by Rostekhnadzor defines the minimum allowed distance between wells as 18 m to 20 m. TNK-BP has already held a tender and selected a contractor who will use BP experience to propose the best well placing option and obtain all the necessary permits.
One of the characteristic features of Prudhoe Bay is its high gas-oil ratio which makes BP specialists look for gas utilization options. Gas turbine power plants have been operated in Alaska for over 20 years and TNK-BP specialists could see the efficiency of captive power plants as the Company is only beginning to build similar facilities on its sites. Besides, some of the gas produced in Alaska is re-injected into the reservoir. Although the geological structure of Prudhoe Bay gas reservoirs differs from that of Yamal fields the Company specialists explored this technology in detail too. It can prove useful in Suzun in the first years of its operation before the regional gas infrastructure is developed. It is planned to study this opportunity in 2010 through scientific research and formation integrity testing.
Heavy Oil Challenges
Planning of Russkoye development includes solving the issue of the heavy oil transportation from well pads to oil treatment facilities (OTF). TNK-BP project teams are looking at several options for crude viscosity reduction including oil dilution with water.
Some time ago BP specialists also had to resolve this problem. Today they heat oil at some of their well pads but this solution is not applicable anywhere; its applicability depends on the temperature conditions, the distance from the well pad to the OTF, etc. It is intended to use BP experience and install oil heaters on some sites of Russkoye field as well. However TNK-BP will probably have to stop using this equipment as soon as the watercut reaches a certain level. Thus, Yamal fields infrastructure development project calls for a flexible model with a potential to change the facility structure to adapt to various operational conditions.
The sand production issue also requires a comprehensive approach. BP specialists have certain experience in using pumps in different operational modes as well as shut-off devices; yet the best production method is be selected on individual basis with account of the specific operational conditions. In 2010 it is planned to test various types of pump equipment in Yamal. Most probably the fields will be developed with a combination of pumps, just like in Alaska.
Another approach used in Prudhoe Bay which can be adopted by Yamal projects is partial oil processing in the field. It is planned to perform the market research in 2010 and to start engineering of an oil processing plant with the capacity of 25,000 t per year in Russkoye field. The plant is expected to produce Euro-3 diesel for own needs (90 percent) and tar for soil foundations construction (10 percent).
TNK-BP specialists noted yet another important element of the Alaskan field infrastructure, i.e. a well developed system of access roads. In Yamal the Company will also have to make sure all the facilities are accessible. Road construction and maintenance costs pay back in terms of safety and mobility: one can access any facility in any season to ensure timely repair. The use of continuous monitoring systems in the field makes it possible to reduce the number of operating personnel on site. For instance, in Prudhoe Bay one operations specialist can control over 40 wells at the same time thanks to the automation systems used in the field. Similar systems are to be designed into TNK-BP fields' infrastructure: among other things such systems allow efficient use of human resources which are limited in the remote locations.
Prudhoe Bay has been in operation for over 30 years which is quite enough to prove the efficiency of the applied technologies. TNK-BP specialists are sure that Yamal fields will be as successful and that the experience of BP colleagues will prove useful for their development.