In 2004, Samotlorneftegaz (SNG) was granted a permit to develop the Ust-Vakh site in the Samotlor field. The South-Eastern part of the field has long been undeveloped because of a natural obstacle, the Vakh River floodplain and the threat of polluting the nearby municipal water intake. Development of the Ust-Vakh project became possible thanks to the implementation of state-of-the-art environment-friendly technology.
"The key criteria for selecting technology, materials and equipment for the Ust-Vakh project are to minimize impact on the environment and to ensure a highly reliable and accident-free operation. We pay particular attention to safe road fill heights, cluster foundations and engineering structures. Never before have we strengthened slopes so thoroughly – using the Teplonite waterproofing material and concrete slabs, and planting various types of grass to keep in check the aftermath of potential floods and prevent soil erosion," said Valery Batrashkin, SNG deputy general director for Operations Planning and Technology.
All production pipelines will be laid using a flood-safe design featuring extra corrosion-resistant pipes with external and internal corrosion-resistant coatings. Internal pipe diagnostics will be done by using inspection robots. The information collected by the robots will help plan in advance a schedule of preventive maintenance work aimed at precluding accidents.
The most difficult part of the project will be to run an oil pipeline below the Vakh riverbed downstream of the water supply intake. It will be done by using horizontal drilling and "pipe-in-pipe" technology (building a metal shell with backup lines).
The general contractor for the Ust-Vakh project is ZAO Tyumenneftegazproekt, a company with extensive experience in designing drilling, production, treating and crude piping projects. The project has a total cost of $650 mln which will go into constructing 23 clusters and 550 wells.
Phase I of the project envisages drilling four clusters in 2005 that are expected to add 1 mln t of crude production by the end of the year. In 2006, SNG plans to start Phase II of the field development, drilling another 190 wells in 10 clusters. Phase III would see construction of 180 more wells in nine clusters, beginning tentatively in early 2007.
"Each of the three phases must not only pass the corporate investment feasibility and approval procedures, but also go through a full-scale process of coordination and approval with authorities and regulators, as well as inspections and reviews by environmental and non-government organizations. This is a very long process, justified by the goal to protect the environment, because Ust-Vakh is a traditional hunting and fishing ground for local people," explained Batrashkin.
The Vakh River floodplain is affected each year by prolonged floods, with rather high water levels due to the backwater effect from the Ob River watershed. Therefore, drilling waste could not be stored there, and drilling would be carried out using a pitless method. Waste and cuttings would be removed immediately for outside disposal.
Approval was granted for oil production on the left bank using horizontal wells from the right bank without disturbing the terrain land near the development site. "There will be no oil storage or tanks on the left bank," said Batrashkin. "These are prohibited by current environmental legislation due to the specific nature of this area."
Initial treatment of crude will take place in a closed water-removal system inside the UPSV-41 unit where water will be separated for reinjection into the reservoir and crude taken to the KSP-9 – oil-gathering point, located within the cluster on the right bank – for treating and further piping. Processing of crude from Ust-Vakh will take place at the currently operating KSP-9 the capacity of which will be expanded, equipment upgraded and pipelines replaced. Additionally, separators will be installed and drilling mud sumps will be built.
"All of the produced associated gas will be also sent to KSP-9 and fully utilized by the gas processing plant. This way, we will completely eliminate flares and meet the most rigorous environmental standards," said Yulian Chernysh, director of SNG Oil Production Unit #5.
Contractors working on the Ust-Vakh field development program are Neftstroyinvest (preparatory work), Nizhnevartovskburneft (well drilling), Halliburton (integrated drilling and hydraulic fracturing services), М-I Drilling Fluids (drill mud support) and NKRS (well testing).
Contractors are selected based on their technical and technological capabilities and should comply with current environmental regulations. "Developing new assets such as Ust-Vakh is a major element of TNK-BP's growth strategy. And we want the new oil fields to become models for environmental and professional excellence," added Batrashkin.