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Developing Shtokman: Mitigating the Environmental Impact

Marat Sharifullin,
Deputy Technical Director for Environment, Shtokman Development AG

Ensuring environmental safety is one of the main conditions when developing large oil and gas projects in the Russian arctic, and this especially applies to the Shtokman gas condensate field (SGCF) development project in the Barents Sea. The Shtokman project will allow the production of natural gas and gas condensate in a high latitude area far off the continental shelf, leaving the area open to potential environmental risks and uncertainties. Primarily, these risks have to do with severe climatic conditions of the Arctic, where the project is to be undertaken, and the environmental limitations related to the vulnerability of the arctic marine ecosystems and the presence of valuable and rare types of hydrobionts – organisms inhabiting the aquatic environment in the area. Moreover, the area where Shtokman is located is intensively used for commercial navigation and is also a very important fishing zone in the Barents sea.

As per the policy of Shtokman Development AG, environmental protection is a priority objective for the company on all organizational levels. This means that we undertake regular assessment of environmental risks during all operations, adhering to the best international practices and implementing the latest technology to minimize the environmental impact of our operations.

Marine Exploration and Research in the Field
Ecological and biological research of the Shtokman field in the Barents Sea started a long time ago, and various scientific teams have participated thus far. The result of these works is a wide range of accumulated information, providing in depth data about the condition and dynamics of the marine environment. Environmental monitoring for offshore hydrocarbon deposits, in line with the current Russian legislation, includes environmental engineering research (EER), which will allow Shtokman Development AG to accumulate information about the state of the marine environment that will be affected during the construction, development and operation stages. It is important to address both the natural state of the ecosystem, and consider the effect that field development would have.

Regarding the development of Shtokman, we’re dealing with a very large area and with over 550 km of deep water pipeline needed, crossing various areas of the Barents Sea. The FPU (Floating Production Unit), which is over 300 meters in length with over 220 000 tonnes of displacement, is the principal unit for gas recovery. This unique, self-propelled, mobile offshore installation combines the technical features of a production platform and an ice-breaker vessel, where gas will be prepared for transportation to shore.

Shtokman Development AG conducted in depth offshore engineering and environmental research into the area. The marine research included studies of the hydrological regime of the sea, hydrometeorological conditions, ice conditions,  a sea bed topography survey for the production area and the pipeline route, a study of the current environmental conditions and that of marine biology.

The research data is used to study the conditions of the environment and to start design works. The company’s priority is the mitigation, or complete elimination of the Project’s environmental risk.

Measures Taken to Minimize Marine Environmental Risk
For the successful undertaking of the above objectives, apart from the research conducted in to the production zone, SDAG is developing measures to mitigate potential environmental risks, and in keeping with this our potential influence on marine organisms was assessed. To minimize the impact on marine life, we are developing a new fish protection systems that will be installed on the vessels water intake. This unique equipment denies the access and ultimately death, of large marine life (over 5 cm) and reduces by up to 95% the chance of plankton entering the intake.

The greatest risk to marine life during operations is the potential of contaminating the sea water with oil products, heavy metals and other biogenic compounds, an increase in suspended matter and increased muddiness during deep water construction works that may affect fish food reserves and fish resources, along with the so-called “disturbance factor”. With this in mind, the deep water pipeline route will go through the least sensitive part of the Barents sea. For water treatment, a unique three-stage purification system adapted for Arctic conditions will be developed.

Another outstanding issue is an experimental study of negative acoustic influence to marine mammals – primarily cetaceans – which may result from hydraulic engineering works. For this purpose, in collaboration with the Murmansk Marine Biology Institute, the company is making an assessment of possible influence of disturbance factors to marine mammals and measures are being developed for mitigation and minimization of such influence.

We will also implement compensatory measures, including raising and releasing the advanced fry into the sea as is typical for all Russian projects, and also the construction of artificial “reef” structures. This will stimulate the natural restoration of ecosystems and significantly reduce the negative effect on marine biological resources.

Environmental Protection Measures for Onshore Facilities
The development of Shtokman will not only influence the marine environment. Significant changes will take place at Teriberka where the Gas Treatment Plant and LNG plant will be constructed. As well as these facilities, which will be the largest in the Arctic, a sea port, procurement base and other infrastructure will be built.

To mitigate the environmental impact caused by the construction of onshore facilities, the design contractors have been given strict requirements to comply with regarding the amont of earth that can be moved. The entire volume of earth moved in the process of preparing the foundations for the GTP  will be put to use during the construction stage. At the LNG plant, nitrogen will be used to purge the system rather than natural gas which will significantly reduce the emissions of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

Constructive Dialogue with Environmental Organizations
Shtokman Development AG regularly holds consulting sessions with the Murmansk regional non-governmental environmental organizations – members of the “Northern Coalition”. The Northern Coalition is an alliance of non-government environmental organizations, founded to ensure that hydrocarbon exploration and development of the Barents eco-region is done in an environmentally friendly manner. Some notable members of the Northern Alliance include the WWF (World Wildlife Fund), Kola Wildlife Protection Center, “Bellona-Murmansk”, Kola Environmental Center and Murmansk regional Lapp NGO.

As a result of these consulting sessions, SDAG supported the initiative of the Northern Coalition on designation of a specially protected natural area (SPNA) near Voronya bay. In collaboration with the Kola Wildlife Protection Center, works are now underway to organize state environmental expertise for the SPNA project.

With the aim of finding an environmentally sound solution for the development of Shtokman, SDAG signed an agreement with the World Wildlife Fund in 2009. In September 2011, the Kola Wildlife Protection Center joined us. The agreement is open for all non-government and environmental organizations willing to help mitigate the potential environmental risk of the development of Shtokman.

We also feel it is important to raise environmental awareness among young people. In 2011 we started a project called “Lessons of Ecology in the Lapland Reserve”. Under the banner of this project, high school students from Teriberka have the chance to visit the Lapland biosphere reserve and listen to lectures on environmental protection. Representatives of various regional non-commercial environmental organizations also participate in these trips.

Environmental Monitoring and Control
An important part of our environmental protection measures will be annual control and monitoring, which will keep tabs on the current state of the environment during all stages of development. Comparing the results of this monitoring with control levels will allow us to see any negative impacts, and indeed take measures to correct these. It will allow us to detect any problems at an early stage. SDAG is keen to work in collaboartion with social and environmental organizations in the environmental monitoring of the area where the operation of the Shtokman project will take place.

At Shtokman Development AG, we aspire to the highest industry standards. In Russia, we have a unique chance to create a system for environmental safety based on existing international best practices at this early stage of Arctic hydrocarbon development.

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