We dreamed of it since the Soviet era but realised only now

Unique, technological, eco-friendly, for more than 4 billion cubic metres a year: the high-pressure gas pipeline from TAIF Group satisfied the gas hunger of Nizhnekamsk

In early September, with the participation of Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov, TAIF Group management and other officials, a solemn ceremony was held in Nizhnekamsk for the commissioning of the new high-pressure gas pipeline GRS No. 2 Yelabuga (Central) — Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC. Realnoe Vremya decided to get back to this event and tell in more detail about the situation with the supply with natural gas of the Nizhnekamsk Industrial Hub before TAIF realises the project. As well as about what opportunities are now opening up for the production and population of Nizhnekamsk and the economy of Tatarstan as a whole, what the uniqueness of Direct Pipe technology is and how the new gas pipeline will help reduce the man-made burden on the environment.

Rustam Minnikhanov: “The project of TAIF is worth a lot”

4,3 billion rubles, 17 months of hard work, 30 kilometres — the total length, including 2,7 km, including three water crossings, built using Direct Pipe method, 5,7 km — pass through the territory of Nizhnyaya Kama national park, the diameter — 1,200 mm. The throughput capacity is more than 4 billion cubic metres of natural gas a year. The commissioning of the high-pressure gas pipeline GRS No.2 Yelabuga (Central) — Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC became the final stage of the large-scale project of TAIF Group to improve the reliability of gas supply not only to the group's enterprises but also to the Nizhnekamsk Industrial Hub as a whole.

“This gas pipeline is our dream. We took different approaches to solving this problem (the issue of gas supply to the Nizhnekamsk hub — editor's note), and we already added as much as we could. But there was no further development. And the step taken by TAIF Group — building the gas pipeline at their own expense — it worth a lot. The most unique and latest technologies that meet all environmental standards. And most importantly, we have great prospects for further development of Nizhnekamsk Industrial Hub," Rustam Minnikhanov said in his speech at the gas pipeline commissioning ceremony.

The project that has been awaited since the Soviet era

Tatarstan is an actively developing large industrial region of Russia. Nizhnekamsk is the oil refining and petrochemical centre of the entire republic.

Back in Soviet times, given the almost annual commissioning of new production facilities and the growth rate of Nizhnekamsk itself, the issue of increasing the volume and reliability of providing the area with natural gas was raised. However, at that time, the state failed to implement the project of building a high-pressure gas pipeline.

In the few decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Nizhnekamsk, along with the country, experienced both a period of economic decline and a new rise. The production output of Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC and TAIF-NK JSC have grown significantly, the Nizhnekamsk thermal power plant (PTK-1) has increased its electricity and heat generation, the methanol plant is being built, the first stage of the ethylene complex — EP-600, and CCGT-TPP-Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC with a capacity of 495 MW. The Heavy Residue Conversion Complex in the mode of complex testing already processes the specified raw materials — tar and vacuum gas oil. Upon completion of commissioning and all approval procedures, it will be fully operational. All this will also require an increase in the volume of fuel — natural gas. As well as the projects implemented by Tatneft PJSC at TANECO complex and Nizhnekamsk CHPP-2. Many other production enterprises and companies that are not related to oil refining and petrochemistry demand their share of gas.

According to experts, taking into account the further development of enterprises of Nizhnekamsk Industrial Hub, including TAIF Group (we are talking about the implementation of the projects that have already been started and announced), by 2025, the unsecured demand for promising investment projects with natural gas in the annual volume could reach more than 3 billion cubic metres.

For clarity, by 2025 (when the production of carbon black, methanol, EP-600 and a number of others will be put into operation), in comparison with 2009, the planned consumption of natural gas in Nizhnekamsk will grow threefold. Meanwhile, the capacity of the existing main gas pipeline (branch to Nizhnekamsk Industrial Hub of Gazprom Transgaz Kazan PLC) has already been exhausted. It is so exhausted that during the period of maximum loads, for example, during the heating season, the capacity of the existing gas pipeline is not able to cover all the current needs of the enterprises. As a result, power plants were forced to switch to burning reserve fuel — mazut. And this is the best case scenario. If there was damage or an emergency shutdown of the gas pipeline, the lack of backup gas supply sources could lead to a complete shutdown of gas supply to the entire industrial hub and Nizhnekamsk.

The question of creating another independent source of natural gas supply of the facilities and the population of Nizhnekamsk, existing plants, as well as large-scale investment projects of great importance not only for the economy of Nizhnekamsk Industrial Hub and Tatarstan but also across the country, was particularly acute.

The need to implement a project to improve the reliability of gas supply and ensure the possibility of supplying additional volumes of natural gas to Nizhnekamsk Industrial Hub has been discussed for a long time. This problem was supposed to be solved within the framework of the project for the reconstruction of the Mozhga-Yelabuga gas pipeline. There were many appeals to Gazprom, both from the first president of Tatarstan — Mintimer Shaimiev, and from Rustam Minnikhanov, who heads Tatarstan today.

This project was supposed to be completed in 2016. The design and selection of the route of the future gas pipeline was started. However, due to that the country's leadership set serious tasks for Gazprom PJSC to implement several strategically important projects for the development of main gas pipeline systems — Nord Stream and Power of Siberia, the reconstruction of the Mozhga-Yelabuga gas pipeline with the construction of a bridge to the gas pipeline branch to the Nizhnekamsk Industrial Hub was postponed. All the forces and resources of Gazprom were directed to the implementation of larger-scale investment projects.

But the problem with limiting the capacity of gas pipelines in the Nizhnekamsk region did not go away, and this happened against the background of the strategic programme for further development of the petrochemical complex approved at the regional and federal levels and adopted for implementation. In this situation, the leadership of the Republic of Tatarstan, with the support of the management of Gazprom PJSC, made the only correct decision on the construction of large-capacity gas distribution pipelines by TAIF Group and at the expense of financial resources.

The loop closes

Being personally interested in ensuring reliable gas supply in the proper volumes and with the necessary reserve, TAIF Group decided to make large-scale investments in the gas project.

“There was simply no gas, so TAIF Group decided to build the new gas pipeline. We did not invent anything supernatural: here we implemented a plan that was proposed back in the days of the Soviet Union, namely, to loop two gas pipeline systems inside Nizhnekamsk Industrial Hub. These are the Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhgorod gas pipeline and the South Corridor gas pipeline. As a result, with the commissioning of this gas pipeline, we got a synergistic effect when gas from two independent sources ended up in the industrial hub. We brought there additional 4 billion cubic metres of natural gas a year. This means that new industries can develop, housing construction can develop, and the economy can develop. For example, according to the investment plans of TAIF Group approved by TAIF shareholders and Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov, we plan to implement investment projects worth up to 1 trillion rubles in Nizhnekamsk Industrial Hub alone by 2030. The lack of necessary volumes of natural gas could seriously slow down these projects. Now there is no such problem. Our colleagues, Tatneft Group, had similar issues. Now we see that their investment projects can also be implemented. And the most important thing is that the reliability of gas supply to both the city and the region's industry from two sources has been improved," said Ruslan Gizzatullin, the deputy director general for energy and information technologies at TAIF JSC, in an interview with Realnoe Vremya.

The first stage was launched at the end of 2015. Gas pipeline from GRS No. 2 Nizhnekamsk before the Heavy Residue Conversion Complex was intended for the new plant of TAIF-NK. Subsequently, this gas pipeline became part of the activities for looping the gas supply system among Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC, Nizhnekamsk CHPP (PTK-1) of TGC-16 JSC and JSC TAIF-NK. The second stage was the construction of the new gas pipeline from GRS No. 2 Yelabuga (Central) — Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC. Gazprom Transgaz Kazan PLC provided invaluable assistance at all stages. Both the former director general of the company, Rafkat Kantyukov, and the current head, Rustem Usmanov, did everything possible: they provided the necessary advice, helped with approvals, and carried out technical supervision of project implementation. Today, TAIF Group and Gazprom Transgaz Kazan PLC signed an agreement on technical and emergency dispatching services for the new gas pipeline. This is beneficial and convenient for both parties.

“The new gas pipeline, so necessary for the needs of Nizhnekamsk Industrial Complex, has been built. The dream of all petrochemists and refiners of the Republic of Tatarstan has come true. The commissioning of this gas pipeline opens up new opportunities for implementing large-scale projects in the field of petrochemicals and oil refining. It was planned to implement the project for the construction of the gas pipeline back in the Soviet Union, but only now it has become possible to implement it. The gas artery with a diameter of 1200 mm and a length of more than 30 km was built in a record 17 months. I sincerely thank all those who have taken part in the implementation of this unique project, which has no analogues in Russia — designers, engineers, builders, installers, gas service specialists. Special words of gratitude to the leadership of the Republic of Tatarstan for their high trust and support," said Ruslan Shigabutdinov, the director general of TAIF JSC.

Advanced European technologies have been used and adapted

Before starting the project, the territory of future works, pipeline tracing, soil analysis, and possible obstacles had been studied. As a result, the project was based on a single route — a complex one with its own problems and requirements, but the only possible one.

“The difficulty of the project was that we had to pass three water crossings: Kama River (1,300 m), Kriusha River (550 m) and Tanayka River (280 m). The latter two are located on the territory of Nizhnyaya Kama national park. Nizhnyaya Kama national park is a specially protected natural area, which provides for special requirements for capital buildings located on this territory. We had no other option for laying the route. An alternative option for laying bypassing the national park provided for a length of about 100 km of the pipeline, which, in turn, created pressure losses in the pipeline at the end points of consumers, which was unacceptable and did not meet the requirements of technical conditions," Valery Sazanov, the director general of GTK PLC, told the correspondent of Realnoe Vremya.

“To meet all legal requirements, including in the field of environmental protection, taking into account the passage of the gas pipeline through unique protected areas, after a long study of advanced technologies in the field of construction, we chose the only possible option — the microtunneling method using the unique Direct Pipe technology on German equipment Herrenknecht, which has recently begun to gain popularity around the world. This is the next step in the evolution of trenchless pipeline drilling. In the world practice, such long-lasting water barriers have been passed only a few times — in Canada and New Zealand. Given that the work in the national park was carried out in winter conditions, this is the unique case in the world. We could adapt the project to it and order the equipment at the factory in Germany. Our employees repeatedly visited Germany and found a common language with our partners.

The passage under the Kama River turned out to be the most difficult and time-consuming. It took two months. The well was drilled for 850 m (the length of pulling the underwater pipeline — 1298 m) in clay soils with periodic passage through layers of pebbles. According to experts, all the works were carried out of high quality. The main part of technically complex works was performed on the territory of Nizhnyaya Kama national park. They were conducted in compliance with environmental requirements.

Alexander Pilishkin, the chairperson of the board of directors of Tatnefteprovodstroy JSC, told the participants of the solemn gas pipeline commissioning ceremony about the features of Direct Pipe technology.

“The project was complex, but interesting. Part of the gas pipeline, which is 6,8 km long, passes through the territory of Nizhnyaya Kama national park. The construction and installation works were carried out with extreme caution, so as not to disturb the unique soil and vegetation layer on the territory of the specially protected natural zone. The uniqueness of the facility was that for the first time in Russia Direct Pipe technology was used for the construction of underground gas pipelines, which is a patented method for laying pipelines. This technology allowed us to reach a qualitatively new level of trenchless pipeline laying and solve a large-scale problem in the shortest possible time. Besides, for the first time in the world, this technology has been used in winter," said Pilishkin.

“Does it turn out to be almost like subway construction?" Rustam Minnikhanov asked the speaker and received an affirmative response.

Technology is indeed reminiscent of subway construction. Only a tunneling shield with special “cutting units” (they are different for different soils) is much smaller. It is easily delivered to the work site using a conventional truck, mounted directly on the site and does not require, in contrast to directional drilling technology, two entry points, as well as pre-drilling and expansion of the pilot well. Combining separate solutions from microtunneling and directional drilling, Direct Pipe significantly simplifies and speeds up the pipeline laying process, minimising the environmental impact. Sinking of the borehole and the removal of rock to the surface is performed by a microtunnel shield, which is directly followed by a pre-welded pipeline. Thus, the technology allows you to immediately drag a working pipeline into the well, bypassing the stage of laying a pipe sleeve of bentonite.

“During the construction of the gas pipeline GRS No. 2 Yelabuga (Central) — Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC, the route crossed a natural island between the Kama River and the Kriusha creek. Using Direct Pipe technology, there was no need to organise installation sites on the island, and the exit of the microtunnel shield was planned into an existing trench with a laid gas pipeline. Thus, the technogenic impact on the territory of the national park through which the gas pipeline passes was minimised," Alexander Pilishkin explained.

Another significant advantage of the technology is that it minimises the use of bentonite solutions and uses them, in contrast to directional drilling, not to drill rock and bring it to the surface, but only to lubricate the annular gap between the pipeline and the wellbore. On the surface, only pure rock is carried along transport highways, which is dewatered at the separation unit and can be used for construction purposes as the foundation of roads, platforms, etc.

The uniqueness of the project implementation was additionally noted by Valery Sazanov:

“For the first time, the project was implemented that received two construction permits at once: these are from federal and republican authorities, and the same two permits for commissioning. This has never happened in Russia, either in terms of technology or in terms of permits.”

Eco-friendly method

Microtunnelling method is environmentally friendly. It has a number of advantages: it eliminates excavation works and also speeds up the time of laying the pipeline. When using microtunneling technology, the pipe passes underground without damaging the roots of trees. If we are talking about passing reservoirs, the gas pipeline enters through a small pit on one bank, passes under the reservoir, bypassing the bottom point of the bottom 5-10 metres below it, and exits from the other side. And all the passages by Direct Pipe technology pass with the maximal jeweller accuracy. The allowance is minimal: just a few centimetres, which is critical for the construction of such facilities as the main gas pipeline. None of the other technologies that exist today can give such a result yet.

“Before entering the national park, we had studied the whole picture, flora and fauna. In the course of the work, environmentalists repeatedly came. When the works were completed, the national park did not deteriorate. We used modern equipment and could improve the entire territory in the area of construction, removed thickets and weeds. Nothing but words of gratitude were said to us. Our work is unique from the point of view of ecology. We worked in the autumn-winter period. The frozen fertile layer was cut out in layers and folded, which allowed preserving the created natural beauty and making a trench along the gas pipeline without harming nature. All restoration works were carried out after the gas pipeline was laid. In the spring, all this was already a single space, Valery Sazanov, the director general of GTK PLC, told the correspondent of Realnoe Vremya.

Besides, the additional volume of natural gas and reliable duplication of sources in the near future will allow avoiding unplanned and emergency shutdowns of continuous industrial production facilities due to restrictions in the gas supply system, as well as excluding backup fuel from the fuel component — environmentally unfriendly mazut. This, in turn, will definitely have a positive impact on the surrounding natural ecosystems, including Nizhnyaya Kama national park and Nizhnekamsk.

“We always talk about the environment and that there were problems, especially in winter, when we had to involve mazut, but this is an environmental burden. Now this issue has been resolved," Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov said in his speech at the gas pipeline commissioning ceremony.

Only this, according to experts, will reduce the emissions of pollutants in Nizhnekamsk Industrial Hub by almost 9,833 tonnes a year.

“Petrochemical processes are also improving. There will be fewer burning torches, as well as less sulphur dioxide. This will have a positive impact on the sanitary protection zone of Nizhnekamsk and the entire national park," said Valery Sazanov, the director general of GTK PLC, in an interview with Realnoe Vremya.

New impetus for economy development

“This project has been implemented exceptionally successfully, and I very much hope that this experience will still be useful both in our country and in our republic. And most importantly, if TAIF Group had not made this decision, there would have been no further development of the Nizhnekamsk hub. Very large investments — 4,3 billion rubles. But it will all pay off," Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov expressed confidence.

“The commissioning of this gas pipeline is a long-awaited solution to the long-term problems of providing the growing needs of enterprises of Nizhnekamsk Industrial Hub, in particular TAIF Group, with additional volumes of gas, and radically solves the problem of ensuring reliable gas supply from two independent sources," said Ruslan Shigabutdinov, the director general of TAIF JSC.

“Indeed, the implementation of this project will give a new impetus to innovative development of economy and industry of Tatarstan, will preserve and enhance the environment of Nizhnyaya Kama national park, and also will contribute significantly to improving the environment in Nizhnekamsk and Yelabuga districts," said Albert Shigabutdinov, the chief advisor to the director general of TAIF JSC for the development, chairman of the board of directors of TAIF JSC.

The construction of the new gas pipeline from GRS No. 2 Yelabuga is a unique facility that allows us to solve not only the problems of gas supply reliability but also to further develop the enterprises of Nizhnekamsk Industrial Hub and remove a number of key environmental problems of the largest industrial region of the Republic of Tatarstan," said Valery Sazanov, the director general of GTK PLC.

By Arseny Favstritsky