Experts to work on setting up site for testing energy technologies in Russia

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A site for testing energy technologies may be constructed in Sablino, Russia. It would be used to approve well-drilling equipment and equipment utilised in the development of hydrocarbon deposits. 

Russian energy corporations were among the most affected by the sanctions imposed by Western nations in 2014. Then, America and the EU banned supplying Russia with software for modelling hydraulic fracturing. It was also prohibited to provide all kinds of machinery for extraction activities on the Arctic shelf, various installations, units and machine parts for the oil & gas industry, even pump sets.

The process of import substitution shortly followed. In fact, it is still going on, but not as fast as subsoil users would expect. Moreover, Russian analogues are not always up to the standard. There have been many cases when equipment breaks down right after getting started.

“Unfortunately, the system of evaluation and approval of intelligent technologies used for prospecting, extracting and processing hydrocarbons is underdeveloped in Russia. To change the situation, we need to build test sites. Experts working there will assess the maintainability of batch-produced and prototype samples. They will also check if they are usable in permafrost areas and at ultra-low temperatures. Finally, they will issue certificates of product conformity to manufacturers. Testing done at such sites will help minimise the risks resulting from equipment failure during an expected lifetime,” says Mikhail Dvoinikov, Head of the Arctic Competence Centre at St. Petersburg Mining University.

The first test facility in Sablino may be opened before 2023. Therein scientists will work on technologies of oil & gas recovery enhancement and test industry-specific equipment. Three wells simulating the conditions of actual fields are planned to be drilled particularly for this purpose. Two of which – vertical and inclined – will be from 350 metres to 3 kilometres in length, depending on business needs.

Six well models with built-in cryogenic units will be designed as well. They will simulate climatic conditions of Antarctica to help improve technologies of permafrost drilling. The latter is needed to ensure that samples of water and body sediments from the unique Lake Vostok are pollutant-free. It is a subglacial lake located at a depth of over 3700 metres. The field in Sablino will also house laboratories for scientific research in hydrogen production, transportation and storage.

The location was not chosen accidentally: Mining University’s scientific and training centre has been operating there for years, with students of such programmes as ‘Oil and Gas Engineering’, ‘Geological Exploration Technology’, and several others coming to it to acquire practical skills. The centre’s infrastructure is impressive: drilling rigs, equipment for well operation, a station for in-process monitoring, lots of field-specific machinery, administrative premises and living accommodations.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation supports the idea of enlarging the centre and transforming it into a field site. They say the project will be operationally effective.

“More than 30 oil & gas, service and industrial companies took part in a survey. Based on its results, a list with 7 technological areas of import substitution was compiled – these must be tested at a facility imitating a natural field. By building it, we will facilitate the development of over 60 new types of domestically produced equipment. It will also stimulate the creation of a market with a potential capacity of over 100 billion rubles and ensure about 10 billion roubles of additional tax revenue to the country’s budget. The expected annual demand is tests of 30-35 pieces of equipment,” notes Vasily Osmakov, Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade.

Under a preliminary plan, technical specifications should be elaborated by mid-year. Then the first phase of construction-and-assembling operations starts. It will include drilling test wells and is supposed to be completed by the end of 2022. Provided everything goes according to the plan, the first tests at the field will take place already in 2023.