A Nenets man rides a sled on the road in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia. Nov. 6, 2017. (Xinhua)
BEIJING, April 23 (Xinhua) -- Does the world have an end?
In the north of Russia's far-flung land lies a peninsula called Yamal. The name, in the language of its indigenous inhabitants, the Nenets, means "end of the world".
Stretching northward into the Arctic Circle, Yamal is covered by snow for about 300 days a year, with a minimum temperature of 52℃ below zero. But if ever you thought low temperature was most testing, you may be underestimating the polar nights and polar days, natural phenomena peculiar to the Arctic Circle. Once the last early winter day is succeeded by night, locals will not see the sun for dozens of days in a row.
Yet, this sweep of land, though born with an extreme weather, is endowed with rich natural gas and oil resources. In 2017, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) announced its participation in Yamal liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, the world's largest LNG project within the Arctic Circle so far.
Lonely "night watchmen"
Although it was already past nine o'clock in the morning, it was still pitch dark around. Jiang Ning, manager of production and operation department, Yamal LNG project of PetroChina International (Russia) Corporation Limited, already got into gear.
Involving many Arctic low-temperature drilling rigs and 100-odd construction modules, the project was confronted with extremely complicated field operations. As a representative from the Chinese side, Jiang really got tons of work to do — monitoring construction progress, and more importantly, organizing studies on the key commissioning roadmaps. To that end, he had to keep track of on-site construction progress and force in an effort to prioritize the work and coordinate the allocation of resources. Right not long before, thanks to the concerted effort of Jiang and his team, the start-up of the plant's third LNG train succeeded at one go, thus ensuring that the third production line of Yamal LNG project can be completed one year ahead of schedule. Notably, this plant took as short as five days and five hours from the test run to start-up, setting a world record among LNG projects of its kind.
"Though the construction site is teeming with workers, only three Chinese staff members are permanently posted here, namely Li Lin, Xu Shengjun and me. So the three of us usually represent China," said Jiang.
Although being roommates, Li Lin and Jiang Ning, as busy as bees, hardly had time to chat.
"It is most difficult to bear up at night. Far away from home, I miss my family on a quiet night. Do my children grow taller? Are my parents in good shape? But over time, I have got used to the life here," Li said. "Today, I communicated with the construction department on some coordination issues, sorted out resource allocation, and then worked alongside my colleagues on solutions to several key problems arising recently. By now, I have been working for 14 hours." After wrapping up another busy day, Jiang also returned to his dormitory. Looking out of the window, he saw an immense blanket of darkness.
But they felt proud of their work. "Yamal LNG project represents the first mega construction project in Russia jointly developed by China, Russia, France and other countries since the Belt and Road Initiative was proposed. So I feel honored to be a participant of this historic project," said Li.
Challenges in "extreme cold" environment
On December 11, 2018, while polar night still reigned in Yamal, the construction site was ablaze with lights, with workers on the go.
Witnessed by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, the third production line of Yamal LNG project came on stream, signaling the completion of this project’s all three production lines.
At the launching ceremony, Medvedev said, "Thanks to the joint efforts of Russia, China, France and other partners, the third production line is put on stream one year ahead of schedule. It also proves that our multilateral partnership is reliable and robust."
Yamal LNG project is dubbed "an energy pearl mounted on the Arctic Circle". Notably, the South Tambey Field, the project's resource base, boasts reserves of 60 million tons of natural-gas condensate and 1.3 trillion m3 of natural gas. Relying on bountiful resources, the project's LNG plant is expected to produce 25 billion m3 of natural gas and 1 million tons of natural-gas condensate every year, and the three 5,500 Kt/a production lines can produce 16.5 million tons of LNG annually.
On September 5, 2013, CNPC signed a deal to buy a 20 percent stake in Yamal LNG project. Two years later, China's Silk Road Fund joined by buying a 9.9 percent stake. By then, Russia's Novatek, CNPC, Silk Road Fund and France's Total respectively held a 50.1, 20, 9.9 and 20 percent stake in the project. Developing energy projects is difficult by nature, let alone one situated within the Arctic Circle, the northernmost tip of the world known for vile weather. One can imagine how many challenges the project has confronted. In the face of many difficulties, all parties have joined hands to overcome them through a series of innovations in polar-region drilling, modular building, icebreakers and Arctic shipping routes.
Among other technologies, the about-16-floor-high Arctic drilling rig is cold-proof and wind-proof aboveground, and can drill as deep as 7,000m underground, representing a Chinese-made drilling rig's first shot in the Arctic. Alongside that, modular building was also introduced into the construction of the project's LNG plant. Under the building mode, all modules are made at the manufacturing bases and then delivered to the construction site for assembly, thereby facilitating the construction and saving time. In total, there are ten module manufacturing bases selected from all over the world, and eight of them are located in China.
Meanwhile, Yamal LNG project has also served as an example of great value for world enterprises in the construction and operation of a large LNG plant. To ensure smooth logistics, the project has also built 15 special ARC 7 ice-class LNG carriers to guarantee the all-year-round independent operation in the Arctic conditions. Chinese shipping lines have signed cooperation agreements with the project to operate 14 of those 15 LNG carriers.
A great endeavor
Yamal LNG project has facilitated access to Asian markets for Russia's natural gas. According to Qin Weizhong, deputy general manager of CNPC, the project not only contributes to energy supply security in Asia but also helps Russia increase investment, employment and tax revenues. Moreover, the project has stimulated the development of related transnational infrastructure including the Arctic shipping routes. During the short summer in the Arctic, LNG produced in the project is exported to Asia via the Northeast Passage. Passing by the Bering Strait, it takes only about 20 days to deliver LNG to China and other countries along the west coast of the Pacific, compared with more than 30 days by Europe-China traditional sea routes. Therefore, the "Arctic shipping routes" have opened a new passage between China and Europe, significantly reducing travel distance and delivery time as well as logistics costs. It is estimated that after the "Arctic shipping routes" are put into full operation, the logistics costs reduced for passing ships are expected to stand at about 100 billion U.S. dollars every year.
In addition, Yamal LNG project has also boosted local economy, and developed a good relationship with local governments and people. While ensuring reliability and cost-efficiency of key technologies, the project has been localized to an extent as greatest as possible — nearly 10 billion U.S. dollar contracts have been signed with 650 Russian enterprises. It has helped to improve local infrastructure including airports and roads, making travel more convenient for local residents and raising their living standards.
While Yamal is shrouded in the darkness of polar nights, the Arctic cold current grows more and more biting, as if it is going to freeze everything here. Siberia's reindeer herders, subjecting themselves to the piercing cold for generations, have learned to migrate by snowmobile. Modern factory facilities have been built in this primitive and deserted land, steaming and lighting up the night sky of Yamal. (Contributed by Ma Xiaocheng, edited by Li Sha, Niu Huizhe)