The operator of Russia's largest liquefied natural gas project, Yamal LNG, has finally moved forward with a long discussed plan to start exploring for commercial hydrocarbons in the shallow-water segment of its mainly onshore South Tambey block.

According to a copy of an environmental impact assessment posted by Russian design institute Krasnoyarskgazprom Neftegazproyekt for public viewing, the planned exploration well #177 has a prognosed total depth of 2850 metres and will be drilled from a water depth of between eight and 10 metres.

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Based on earlier tender disclosure notices, the wildcat was originally planned to be spudded during the ice-free 2018 summer season but a suitable drilling rig could not be secured.

However, the environmental document said that Yamal LNG has now secured the Saipem-operated jack-up Perro Negro 8 for the job, with the drilling expected to begin in July 2022.

According to marine vessel traffic websites, Perro Negro 8 was towed to the Russian port of Murmansk in October after earlier this year completing a wildcat on the offshore section of the Geofizichesky block in Ob Bay in the Yamal-Nenets region.

Geofizichesky is operated by Arctic LNG 1, a subsidiary of Novatek — Russia's largest gas independent and a leading shareholder in Yamal LNG.

Perro Negro 8’s tow-out to South Tambey near the Yamal Peninsula is anticipated to begin in June next year.

According to the assessment, in the event of a discovery, the exploration well may later be converted into a producer because it is located about 10 kilometres from Drilling Pad #39 on the South Tambey field, and thus may be tied into the infield pipeline system by a subsea link.

South Tambey importance

The South Tambey block is the only source of feed gas for Yamal LNG — a four-train plant in the port of Sabetta on the Yamal Peninsula.

Novatek has repeatedly said that because of the cold climate of the Yamal Peninsula, the facilities at Yamal LNG have consistently performed above their stated capacity, thereby requiring the operator to maintain higher than initially planned gas production at South Tambey.

Last year, Yamal LNG produced 18.8 million tonnes of LNG, or 114% of its annual nameplate capacity, with output this year anticipated to grow by another 2% to 3%, according to Novatek executives.

Also last year, Russian authorities rubber-stamped Yamal LNG’s plan to drill 14 new onshore wells at South Tambey in an attempt to bring additional deeper reservoirs of gas and condensate into production.

According to Yamal LNG, proven and probable reserves at the field are estimated at about 1 trillion cubic metres of gas, with minimal annual production of 27 billion cubic metres required to support operations of the LNG plant in Sabetta.