Key factors influencing the reliability of trunk gas pipelines in the West Siberian North

Change log
Seligman, Benjamin Justin 

For many years Russia has been the world's largest natural gas producer. Nearly 80% of total Russian production comes from three West Siberian enterprises of RAO Gazprom, Russia's monopolistic gas company. These gas fields are among the largest in the world and lie astride or just north of the Arctic Circle in the Nadym-Pur-Taz gas production complex (located in the Yamalo-Nenetskiy Autonomous District of Tyumenskaya Oblast'), several thousand kilometres from the major markets in the industrial regions of European Russia and in the "near" ( other CIS countries) and "far" ( eastern and western Europe) abroad. The trunk pipelines which supply gas from these fields pass initially through a region of extreme and complex natural-climatic conditions, in particular permafrost, which present an array of problems for gas pipeline planning, construction and operation. Given that Russia depends so much upon the gas industry for hard currency revenues, notably through Gazprom's exports to Europe, and that Russia, the rest of the CIS and Europe depend so much upon the company for energy supplies, Gazprom has a compelling interest in ensuring reliable gas transmission. The integrity of West Siberian trunk gas pipelines inspires little confidence in Gazprom's ability to construct and reliably operate the northern section of the Yamal - Europe Gas Transmission System, the company's most ambitious pipeline project. The purpose of this thesis is to assess the extent to which such lack of confidence is justified. The thesis examines two fundamental aspects of 30 years of trunk gas pipeline planning, construction and operation in the West Siberian North in order to provide a basis for assessing Gazprom's capacity to meet the Yamal challenge. The first involves identification of the key issues relating to the integrity and reliability of buried trunk gas pipelines in this region. Research revealed that Gazprom lacks capacity to ensure pipeline reliability in permafrost conditions in two key respects: high quality planning and construction work backed up by a sound regulatory framework and appropriate product temperature regulation during operation. The second concerns whether there is evidence for or against the existence of a learning process with regard to the planning, construction and operation of northern trunk gas pipelines over the 30 year period. While evidence was found to support the existence of a learning process in some areas of these activities, for example in connection with the "Highly Reliable Pipeline Transport" programme founded in 1993, there are also strong indications of the industry's continuing failure to tackle fundamental problems in northern gas pipeline operations at their root. The thesis then provides an assessment of the technical preparedness of Gazprom for construction of the northern section of the Yamal - Europe Gas Transmission System in an area of even more complex natural-climatic conditions than those operating in the Nadym-Pur-Taz complex. We find that grounds remain for continuing lack of confidence in Gazprom's competence to meet the Yamal challenge.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Digitisation of this thesis was sponsored by Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin