North European Gas Pipeline as a unique energy bridge to Europe

North European Gas Pipeline (NEGP) will open a principally new export route for Russian gas, directly connecting Russia and European gas market without any mediators. The pipeline consists of two onshore and one offshore sections. Onshore section will run from the town of Gryazovets (Vologda Oblast) to Portovaya Bay near Vyborg (Leningrad Oblast). This 917 km long section is already under construction and will connect NEGP with Unified Russian Gas Supply System. The offshore section of pipeline will run from Portovaya Bay along the bottom of the Baltic Sea to Greifswald Bay in Germany, for a total length of 1,200 km. Further, it will again run onshore on German territory. NEGP is a new energy bridge to Europe with growing energy demand, whereas gas is ecologically friendly fuel, consumption of which is increasing year by year. The first leg of pipeline with capacity of 27.5 bcm per year is planned to be brought into operation in 2010; the launch of the second leg will double the NEGP capacity. We are talking to Sergey Serdukov, Nord Stream Technical Director, PhD.

– Sergey Gavrilovich, Nord Stream operates the construction of the gas pipeline offshore section. Could you please tell us how the bottom of the Baltic Sea is being prepared for the pipe laying?

– Actually, preparation work started in 1997. The pipeline route was preliminary defined on the basis of conducted scientific research. Since it has very big length, we had to consider several options of the pipeline route and then to choose the optimum one.

The building of the pipeline has a great international importance. In 2000 by decision of European Union Commission on Energy and Transport the project was given the status of TEN (Trans-European Network). In September 2005 the heads of three biggest European energy concerns, OAO Gazprom, BASF AG and E.ON AG, signed an agreement on the terms of NEGP construction project, and in December of the same year joint Russian German company - North European Gas Pipeline Company was established, which is now renamed into Nord Stream.

Sea bottom survey has been carried out since 2005. It is divided into two stages. The first stage, which we are working at now, implies geological engineering survey and route preparation. This is a very wide complex of work, including ecology related activities and environment impact assessment procedure, which is to be carried out at two levels – national level and trans-border level, when the project expertise on its compliance to Espoo Convention will be conducted. The next stage is the realization of the project itself, that is the pipeline laying on the bottom of the Baltic Sea. This work will begin in 2008. The total length of the offshore section of the pipeline will be about 1,200 km; the maximal sea depth in the areas of pipe running will be 210 m.

We have already conducted the survey of the Baltic Sea bottom along the whole stretch of the future pipeline in the band of 2 km and have identified large technogenic objects more than 4 m long, which are to be passed over - sunken ships, airplanes, trail nets, big fishing gears. The pipeline route will not come close to them.

Two more bands are being surveyed – to the right and to the left from the pipeline, to make sure there is no any ammunition there. As the pipeline will have two leg construction, the whole required sea bottom area is being surveyed from the beginning. This year we will complete the sea bottom survey on the whole stretch of the pipeline section for both legs to identify all potentially dangerous objects. The work runs successfully, and the data obtained is mapped out.

Further, it will be necessary to decide on the international level what to do with technogenic objects and ammunition found on the sea bottom. All negotiations with the countries, through the territory of which the pipeline runs, will be planned after objects identification will be completed.

A separate issue is chemical weapons, the stockpiles of which were buried on the bottom of the Baltic Sea after the Second World War by decision of victor countries. Some burial dumpings have lost its packing. Therefore, along the whole route bottom water samples and bottom sediments samples were taken for laboratory analysis in order to avoid instrument contact with chemical warfare agents during geotechnical work. Bottom waters have been never investigated before, so our results will be useful for Helsinki Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELKOM), which will have the right to request to construct the objects on the shelf only in clean water conditions.

The results of detailed bottom topography survey, hydroacoustic and magnitometric survey and other surveys, conducted by a number of large research institutes and companies, has become the basis for design solutions when defining the pipeline route.

The main principle of major consideration for the pipeline offshore section design was the farthest distance from all dangerous burial dumpings on the sea bottom. The areas with buried chemical weapons will be passed over when the section will be laid down.

The requirements of environment protection law are being also considered: the pipeline will be laid distant from seals habitat, spawning grounds and environmentally protected territories.

– How dangerous can it be for the Baltics with its fragile closed ecosystem?

– Advanced metallurgy technologies can produce highly reliable materials - high strength steels. There is world wide experience of offshore gas pipelines construction with total length of 10 thousand km with excellent operation statistics. For example, not only emergencies, but even failures in pipelines operation were not the case in the North Sea for 30 years in the practice of Statoil and Norsk Hydro.

For Nord Stream construction we will use the pipes manufactured from high strength steel with reinforced corrosion-resistant insulation. Besides, the whole pipe will be enclosed with reinforced concrete armored casing, which will result in very high durability and high strength reserve. Whereas a pipe produced on the plant weighs 12 tons, the pipe prepared for the laying will weigh 20 - 23 tons. The designed operation life of the pipeline is 50 years.

The results of the calculations of pipeline stress, bottom stability, permissible length of clear span and the overall integrity and durability of the construction have been taken into account for determining design features and technical solutions for Nord Stream construction. The selected constructional features and technical solutions comply with DNV (Det Norske Veritas) standards. Ecologically friendly construction and operation of Nord Stream imply meeting the requirements of Russian and international legislation, international agreements, standards, rules and instructions.

All the parties involved in NEGP construction realize the complexity of the task. Nord Stream is a unique extreme project. However, it can be realized without any damage to the Baltic Sea, which has a special status, washing nine countries situated around it; practically it is like a shared apartment. The pipeline will cross national waters of Russia and Germany, as well as exclusive economic zones of Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Therefore, it is necessary to have all countries consent for the project realization. At the same time the pipeline construction is mutually profitable, as it will ensure stable economic development of Western European countries on the basis of deficit-free gas supply.

Preparation for the offshore section construction goes at full drive. A tender is being held for the best pipe suppliers, in which six large companies are participating, including two Russian manufacturers – Vyksunsky Metallurgical Plant and Izhorsky Pipe Plant.

– How will pipe be laid?

– There are special pipe laying ships capable of autonomous work in the sea for several months in a stretch. This is important as the work technology does not allow ships to abandon the pipe they are laying.

There are also ships of the forth generation with dynamic stationing, which can operate without anchorage, and due to ample drives they can position a pipe on the sea bottom with high accuracy.

Now we are holding a tender to select pipelaying vessels. There are just four such vessels in the world, which can be used for Nord Stream construction. They belong to Dutch, Italian, Norwegian and Russian companies.

Generally speaking there is an opportunity to use the most advanced technologies for the project realization.

All measures will be also taken to prevent any inadvertent contact with rusted caskets containing chemical warfare agents and ammunition, which will remain beyond the pipeline route, in the process of pipeline laying on the sea bottom.

As the pipeline will be laid in the zones of intensive vessels movement, special coordination will be required between Nord Stream and Baltic states agencies dealing with shipping safety.

– To which extent will the pipeline construction process be open to public?

– German television makes the coverage and shows to the audience in the Baltic region, how the preparation for the North European Gas Pipeline construction is going on. Russian and foreign journalists will have open access to construction objects even during offshore assembling operations.

Since construction will be carried out in exposed locations, up-to date information technologies will make it accessible for observation, which is a proof and component of our open door policy.

Interview conducted by Olga Loskutova

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Sergey Serdukov, Nord Stream Technical Director

Sergey Serdukov, Nord Stream Technical Director