I flew from Chicago to Helsinki and then to Copenhagen, where ABB had laid on a charter flight to Alta, Norway. From Alta, we took a bus, stopping for herds of reindeer crossing the highway all along the way, to Hammerfest. By then, I'd been up about 30 hours and I crashed even though there was no darkness-we were truly in the land of the midnight sun..
The next morning, we went through a long undersea tunnel to Melkøya Island, in the fjord off Hammerfest for briefings and a tour of the plant.
The Melkøya LNG complex was built to serve the Snohvit subsea well field complex. From Statoil's website (http://www.statoil.com/en/OurOperations/ExplorationProd/ncs/snoehvit/Pages/default.aspx):
Snøhvit is the first offshore development in the Barents Sea. Without surface installations, this project involves bringing natural gas to land for liquefaction and export from the first plant of its kind in Europe and the world's northernmost liquefied natural gas facility.
Arctic LNG supplies from Snøhvit provide new opportunities for Statoil in the US gas market. Snøhvit is the first major development on the Norwegian continental shelf with no surface installations.
The seabed facilities are designed to be over-trawlable, so that neither they nor fishing equipment will suffer any damage from coming into contact. No fixed or floating units are positioned in the Barents Sea. Instead, the subsea production facilities stand on the seabed, in water depths of 250-345 metres. A total of 20 wells are due to produce gas from the Snøhvit, Askeladd and Albatross fields. This output is transported to land through a 143-kilometre pipeline.
A total of nine wells are planned on Snøhvit, including eight for production and one for injecting carbon dioxide back below ground. Six of the producers and the carbon dioxide injector were drilled during 2004-05, with the remaining two following in 2011.
In addition, the production wells were drilled on Albatross in 2005-06. This field also forms part of the Snøhvit development. The Snøhvit and Albatross wells came on stream in 2007. The Askeladd part of the development is not due to come on stream until 2014-15.
The carbon dioxide injection pipeline Statoil's website mentions above is so that the LNG plant can have a vastly reduced carbon footprint. Instead of releasing the CO2 as most facilities do, The Melkøya facility is designed to capture the carbon and re-inject it into the well field. This will cut the plant's carbon emissions by at least half over a normal LNG plant.
Statoil's vice president of production, Øivind Nilsen, talked about the plant, and how it was constructed. The business end of the plant was actually built on a barge in Spain, and towed to the site. In the meantime, a drydock had been built that the barge could just slot into. The dock was filled, the barge floated in, and then the dock was emptied, leaving the plant permanently attached.
This necessitated the plant being built very compactly-perhaps too compactly, but it works. Nilsen noted that this gave Statoil enough real estate on the island to make two more plants of the same size. "We have lots of expansion room," he said.
Per Erik Holsten, ABB's Head of Division for Process Automation in Norway talked about the specific challenges of working in the Arctic and the Barents Sea. He noted that the area is ecologically fragile, home to spawning grounds for many food fishes including cod, and needs to have especially high levels of environmental care taken with any undersea work, as well as with plants like Melkøya. He described the design of the undersea facilities as "environmentally friendly."
Håvard Devold, vice president for oil and gas upstream market, talked about the innovative electrification systems that ABB and Statoil are pioneering, including HVDC undersea lines to each of the subsea installations, so there is less energy loss that with AC transmission. Some of these lines are long, and doing HVDC is less expensive than AC would be.
We then suited up and did a full scale tour of the plant. The plant includes field devices from many vendors, including Siemens and Endress+Hauser, but the control system is all ABB System 800xA. One of the interesting things was the large collection of fish swimming in the plant water intake, including flounder and other food fishes. Lunchtime fishing must be pretty good!
Øivind Nilsen talked about what arctic gas means to Statoil in terms of new markets and revenues. He noted that if the planet continues to warm, the Northeast Passage is expected to open up all the way from Hammerfest to Vladivostok, and then to Japan and China. Shipping LNG that way will be faster and cheaper than going through the Suez or Panama Canals, or around the horn. Even though the prices for natural gas are low in the United States currently, Nilsen sees the US as a fertile market in the future.
Veli-Matti Reinikkala, who is head of process automation for ABB, gave his view of the opportunities for ABB in oil and gas production from now ‘til 2015. He sees this industry vertical as providing significant growth for ABB globally, and he believes the arctic finds will be core to ABB's business.
We got carted off to Hammerfest to participate in the grand opening of ABB's new offices, complete with first rate cellist and the Lord Mayor of Hammerfest, wearing his gold chain of office. Then we went to Mikkelgammen (www.mikkelgammen.no) for an evening of eating reindeer, which was really very good. It tasted like elk (of course it would) which I have eaten before. The host sang us some shamanistic chants and talked about the Sami (which we used to call Lapplanders) and their way of life and culture, and following the reindeer migrations.
The next morning we arose at what here would be O Dark Thirty, but which on June 21st, the Summer Solstice, was still daylight (and had been all night). We walked down to the pier and took the Hurtigruten (www.hurtigruten.us) cruise ship for a short cruise to Honningsvåg. This is a small cruise ship cum ferry boat, and we sailed up and around the top of Norway to Honningsvåg, which is nearly walking distance to Russia. The weather was bad, the seas were somewhat rough, but standing on the bow of the ship looking at the scenery must be experienced. The other passengers, mostly elderly people on a fancy cruise, were wondering what the heck we were doing, especially since we took over the ship's movie theater for the morning and they were all annoyed that they couldn't watch the movie that had been scheduled.
Honningsvåg and Hammerfest are arguing over which is the most northerly city in Norway. You'd think that Honningsvåg would win, hands down, since if you look on a map, it is clearly far north of Hammerfest. But as the mayor told us, Hammerfest has significantly more population and thus is the most northerly city. The Honningsvåg folks emphatically disagree. I guess you have to have something to talk about during all those long winter nights.
While we were en route, Borghild Lunde, ABB vice president of strategy and business development talked about the challenges that subsea oil and gas exploration produce. The title of her talk was "Subsea, longer, deeper, colder" and she discussed what the future holds for wells further from shore, deeper and colder than any drilled so far. These challenges are of course, compounded with the need for environmental sustainability and low carbon footprint.
After disembarking at Honningsvåg, we trooped to the tour bus and took the long drive back to Alta, where the charter flight took us back to Copenhagen. I stayed the night in Copenhagen and then flew back to the US the next morning.
Statoil, helped by ABB, is doing some extremely innovative work in subsea exploration and drilling, and in extraction of natural gas. The HVDC and carbon dioxide return lines alone are nearly unique, and the completely underwater gas well installations are very forward looking and environmentally friendly. With complete subsea installations, the chances of a blowout like Deepwater Horizon are vastly reduced.