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In the Russia’s Far North region, 600 kilometers inside the Arctic Circle, some unusual logistics resources were used to start up Yamal LNG by late 2017. TotalEnergies, in partnership with Novatek, CNPC and Silk Road Fund, has built a large-capacity regional transport hub, a key infrastructure component needed to achieve the record production lead time for this massive gas project.

Yamal LNG, A Construction of the Extreme

When construction started on the Yamal LNG facility at Sabetta in 2011, the site had no access route by land or sea. The area is isolated – located in a remote wilderness on the banks of the Ob, a river that is ice-bound for eight months of the year – and far from any town or any oil industry infrastructure. It is pitch black for two months of the year. In winter, the temperature can drop to -50°C.

The problems posed by the environment on the Yamal Peninsula make logistics an unusual challenge, entailing as they do building a natural gas liquefaction plant with a capacity of 16.5 Mt per year, four 160,000 m3 storage tanks and an LNG export shipping terminal, all in just six years.

To achieve this, transportation and local accommodations for up to 20,000 people had to be provided, 150 prefabricated LNG plant modules each weighing between 200 and 8,000 metric tons had to be transported from Asian shipyards, and materials and equipment had to be supplied to the site, including more than 5 million metric tons of bulk sand, gravel, cement, concrete slabs, and more. One additional difficulty was that the bulk materials and modules had to be shipped within the short period when the Ob is not ice-bound, spanning four months of the year between mid-June and mid-October.

  • Most of the construction materials and equipment required had to be delivered to the site by sea via the Northern Route.
  • sabeta
    Most of the equipment was built and sub-assembled in various shipyards in East Asia and then delivered to the Sabetta site for final assembly.
  • sabeta
    Some 20,000 people worked on the construction site during the summer of 2016, housed in several camps built specifically for the purpose.
  • sabeta
    Before LNG and condensates could be exported, the port and the liquefaction plant had to be built and made operational.

The Northern Sea Route East (NSR East), a strategic priority

In winter, LNG plant modules are transported from Asian shipyards via the Suez Canal, a trip lasting 53 days.

However, transport via the Northern Sea Route East, through the Bering Strait, would reduce this time by 20 days, and cut costs by a third. This more direct northeastern route is already taken in the summer because of the ice melt.

Enabling maritime traffic to take this northern route, which was very busy before the 1990s, has now become a major commercial priority, and a national objective for the Russian government.

Large-Scale Marine Logistics

Constructing Yamal LNG within the deadline required proper maritime access. Module deliveries began in September 2015 with a fleet of module carriers that was expected to be twenty-strong by the summer of 2016. Two of these carriers are ice class Arc4 and are thus able to reach the site until November.

Two ice class Arc7 module carriers with reinforced hulls were built that were unrestricted by the ice and able to deliver modules to Sabetta during the winters of 2014, 2015 and 2016.


Audax and Pugnax, 2 new Arc7 class ice-breakers

  • Named Audax and Pugnax, these Arc7 class ice-breakers were designed and built in China.

Pugnax maiden voyage
    Entering service in February 2016, the PC-3 heavy transport vessels are 206 meters long and have a 7.5-meter draft.
  • 150 heavy modules will be delivered by sea year-round by 10 Heavy Transportation Vessels (HTVs) and 8 spot chartered HTVs upon request.
  • Conçus et construits en Chine, les brise-glaces de classe Arc7 Audax et Pugnax ont été mis en service en février 2016.

    They are capable of breaking 1.5 meters of ice at a speed of two knots.

A cargo port has also been specially built in Sabetta for unloading the modules. Operational since 2015, it currently has six quays, two of which are 200 meters long. A utility fleet keeps the port running. It will eventually include a Class 7 diesel ice-breaker generating 12 MW, a 7 MW Arc6 ice-breaking tugboat with 90 tons of bollard pull, and three reinforced Arc4 class tugboats (4 MW, 70 TBP).

Between June and September, when deliveries by ice-free seas are at their height, operations must be coordinated to prevent incidents and delays. The project uses software developed by the TotalEnergies E&P Logistics team that helps to manage the module carrier fleet. To optimize the routes taken by vessels in real time, an operations center has been set up to collect and relay MeteOcean data from Paris and Moscow concerning vessel positions and ice conditions.

The Belgian port of Zeebrugge has also helped satisfy Yamal LNG’s logistics requirements by creating a storage area for modules and bulk materials in the port to smooth out the flow of deliveries. Several vessels deliver to Sabetta from this transshipment port, including the Audax and Pugnax module carriers in winter.

Air Transport and Housing on an Unprecedented Scale

The construction of an international airport in Sabetta was a key factor in opening up the Yamal Peninsula, a region with considerable gas potential. As operations increased at the site, it became impossible to continue transporting staff by helicopter given the size of the workforce. Construction work on the airport began as early as 2011. The airport, which opened in February 2015, now has a 2.6-kilometer-long and 47-meter-wide runway suitable for a Boeing 767. We are expecting approximately 150,000 passengers in 2016 – Yamal LNG staff or subcontractors, travelling via direct flights from Moscow, Samara and even Beijing.

Some 20,000 people worked on the construction site during the summer of 2016, housed in several specially built camps on the site. Thanks to Russia’s experience in Siberia and the Arctic, staff support logistics are running smoothly in this quintessential boom town, located in an area that had been essentially deserted until five years ago. The site now has its own power station, worker transport system, housing and recreational facilities, including traditional Russian banyas (saunas).

In 2018, the imposing port and airport hub, built from the ground up by logisticians for the Yamal LNG construction project, will continue to evolve while playing the same role of transporting LNG and providing transport for staff rotations. Fifteen Arc7 LNG ice-breakers, eleven conventional LNG carriers and two Arc7 Arctic oil carriers will then take over from module carriers on the sea routes of the Far North region. Around half of the cargo will be delivered to Asia, via the Northern Sea Route East in summer and via Zeebrugge in winter.


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