Workers of PMC ESPO, a Transneft subsidiary managing the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean Project, have nearly completed welding work on the linear portion of the ESPO pipeline system’s offshot to the Komsomolsk Refinery. Hydrotesting of the oil pipeline is scheduled this summer. Construction work is now focused at three future oil pump stations. Work on the pipeline represents a major investment project in Khabarovsk region, with significant impact on local economy. The project is being implemented with special attention to environmental risks. We met on site with the specialists of PMC ESPO, who are responsible for the environmental safety of the project at each stage of construction.
“Is it right that construction work can be stopped for the sake of a single flower? It sounds crazy with the noise of pipe layers, bulldozers, and loaders going on all around us! The ESPO PS – Komsomolsk Refinery offshoot is a massive project…”
“Of course, we don’t stop the work completely, there’s no need to”, says Elena Timofeeva, Chief Specialist of Environmental Safety Section at PMC ESPO. “Construction work on the linear portion of the pipeline offshoot is divided into several sections. Why should we stop work on the whole of it? But work has to be suspended at the site where they find a rare plant, even a single flower.”
In proof of which Elena shows me a colour brochure, where I read: “Organizational Standard. Compliance with environmental and forestry legislation at forest sites covered by Transneft’s Development, Technical Upgrading, and Revamping Programme during operations implemented by PMC ESPO”. Elena explains:
“We follow this instruction right from the first stages of construction, from the studies stage. And if we find rare or threatened plants species on the future pipeline route or on the proposed site for an oil pump station there can be only one solution, which is to find a new site. It sometime happens that a rare plant is discovered when the construction and installation work is already underway. Then, as I said, work stops. A commission is created with representatives of the customer, the contractor, and local forestry agencies. The rare plant is transplanted to a safe place in consultation with the relevant environmental authorities. Or, if construction plans are kept unchanged, compensatory measures are designed to ensure conservation of the rare plant. We constantly update the list of rare plants, inform contractors, and ensure that instructions are followed.”
Like any industrial project, the ESPO PS – Komsomolsk Refinery pipeline offshoot entails a heavy burden of environmental responsibility for PMC ESPO. The pipeline extends for nearly 300 km across three districts of Khabarovsk region: the Amur, the Komsomolsk and the Solnechny districts. To ensure environmental safety of the future pipeline operation, the design organizations have made a thorough study of the properties and behaviour of soils during respective periods of the year, made calculations, and confirmed them by field studies. Based on this work, measures have been prepared to compensate negative impact on the pipeline from hazardous natural and geological processes.
“Everyone here understands the price of a mistake in the construction of an oil pipeline and the damage that can be caused. So responsibility and control at every stage is not just empty words,” says Ilya Volkov, Deputy Chief Supervisor of the Construction Team for Linear Portion No. 20. He takes me to the pipeline’s longest underwater crossing across Kharpy river: a 7,250-metre span from gate valve to gate valve, joining the floodplain of two rivers, the Kharpy and the Alkan.
“Underwater crossings are the most difficult part of a linear pipeline section,” Ilya says. “The oil pipeline runs along the river bottom, under the water column. It’s called a ‘siphon’ and uses pipes with thicker walls. All of the welds are double-checked and internal pipeline inspection is carried out to find possible defects. Hydrotesting of the siphon is carried out before its installation. Water is pumped in and the pressure is increased to the maximum recommended factory parameters. That gives us confidence about reliability of the installed pipe and the environmental safety of the project.”
Environmental concern is just as evident in work on major pipeline facilities. Environmentalists work alongside construction specialists at the sites of future oil pump stations. There are three such sites along the ESPO PS – Komsomolsk Refinery pipeline offshoot.
“We need to know the state of the environment, of the environmental components, which future construction and installation work will affect most. This is called a ‘background environmental assessment’. The observations we make at this stage will let us assess the impact of construction and installation work on natural habitats and we can also adjust our work to reduce this impact,” says Anton Dementievsky, head of Environmental Safety Section at PMC ESPO. The required frequency of monitoring of environmental components is established by Transneft guideline documents. For example, atmospheric air is sampled in the winter and summer periods, and groundwater monitoring is carried out every four months. Visual observations are performed and certain physical parameters are measured (measurement of water flow speed, sampling of surface water, ground water, soil, and air). The data are studied and assessed in a laboratory, and reports are compiled.
A special set of measures is in place to compensate damage to aquatic bio-resources. The fry of rare and valuable fish species are released into river basins and ponds on a regular basis in all regions where the Company has operations. During implementation of the ESPO PS – Komsomolsk Refinery pipeline offshoot project, juveniles of valuable fish are released into rivers within the Amur river basin in Khabarovsk region.
In 2017, PMC ESPO will release more than 300,000 fry of the Amur sturgeon and chum salmon. Environmental work represents a significant part of this large-scale project, which is based on the principle of "Zero harm!" That principle is not subject to change.