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Engineering for Extremes

In April 2014, TechnipFMC in a joint venture with Japanese companies JGC and Chiyoda Corporation won the contract for the Engineering, Procurement, Supply, Construction and Commissioning (EPSCC) of one of the world’s largest integrated LNG plants. 

Located on the Yamal Peninsula in the estuary of the Ob River in the Russian Arctic, a region typically ice-bound for nine months of the year, the Yamal LNG project is a remote complex that produces natural gas and gas condensate. The pioneering project at the Port of Sabetta is being executed for JSC Yamal LNG, a consortium owned by Novatek, Total, CNPC and Silk Road Fund. 

Yamal LNG is being built in three phases, each featuring a 5.5 Mtpa process train. When completed, Yamal LNG will produce a total of 16.5 Mtpa of LNG and up to 1.2 Mtpa of gas condensate, which will be shipped to Asia-Pacific and European markets.

Yamal LNG began exporting LNG from its first train in late 2017, with the second and third trains slated to come online in 2018 and 2019. The gas is extracted from the South Tambey field, which is among the world’s largest gas discoveries.

Frigid Conditions

One of the biggest challenges faced throughout the Yamal LNG project is the extreme weather conditions and remoteness of the facility. Temperatures can drop as low as -57°C with an annual average of -10.5°C. The polar night lasts from November to February. And the region typically is ice-bound for nine months of the year.

TechnipFMC and its partners confronted the site’s frigid and isolated conditions by choosing a modular construction approach, contracting with 10 Asian fabrication yards to build 142 modules and 365 pre-assembled pipe racks weighing more than 480,000 tonnes. Yamal LNG became one of the largest modular construction projects in the world.

To ship the modules to Russia, TechnipFMC developed an ambitious logistics plan using a fleet of 20 vessels, including two specially built Arctic-class Heavy Transport Vessels that journeyed from Asia to Sabetta by two different routes. The vessels travelled a northwest passage through the Suez Canal and a northeast passage through the Bering Strait.

Design and Safety Challenges

Dealing with the extreme weather conditions and isolation, TechnipFMC and its partners confronted a variety of design challenges, including material selection, plant preservation, permafrost and ground stability.

The modules were positioned and installed on more than 60,000 piles that were driven 20 to 40 meters into the permafrost. The ground temperature was calculated at different depths to determine the best layers of insulation thickness. Thermosyphons were installed to chill the ground during winter to help balance the heat output from the facility.

On the safety side, Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) programs and extensive worker training were implemented at all construction sites and fabrications yards, including 10 yards in Asia and a storage facility in Europe.  

Special HSE measures had to be developed and implemented to protect the thousands of construction site workers laboring in frigid conditions. This was accomplished through strong management support and individual and team commitments to a safe environment, with the overall goal of zero safety incidents.

Plant Preservation

Because of the hostile and isolated environment of the Yamal Peninsula, it was important to identify the potential risk of critical onsite system failures such as the power supply. To that end, a thorough identification and assessment study was performed to develop a risk profile at the massive LNG complex and ensure all potential problems could be efficiently and safely mitigated. 

These potential risks were objectively evaluated and analyzed from the early stages of the project. Mitigation plans required numerous studies and use of the latest design and innovation management tools to achieve a safe plant startup and continuous operations under the extreme weather conditions.

Moving Beyond

The Yamal LNG project has in many ways taken engineering practices well beyond traditional boundaries. The challenges of constructing and operating in such harsh Arctic conditions requires innovative methodologies, out-of-the-box designs and intense scrutiny to push the usual industry solutions to new levels of success.

A challenging project from the outset, Yamal LNG is a triumph on many fronts, inspiring technological advances in engineering in extreme conditions, as well as improved processes, organization and management tools.