Caspian Pipeline Consortium has started moving ahead with a closely watched plan to replace partially damaged buoyancy tanks at its marine terminal near the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk.
The completion of repairs is eagerly awaited by major Western-led oil producers in Kazakhstan, as the new tanks will help restore the pipeline network’s throughput capacity ahead of the northern hemisphere’s winter.
Caspian Pipeline carries 80% of Kazakh crude exports via its pipeline network across Russian territory to the export terminal at Novorossiysk, but has been excluded from Western sanctions against Russia following the invasion of Ukraine because its network remains the major export route for Kazakhstan’s foreign-led Tengiz, Kashagan and Karachaganak oil producing projects.
In August, the consortium, which has Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and Eni among its stakeholders, had been forced to “temporarily suspend” crude shipments from two out of its three offshore tanker loading buoys at the marine terminal after cracks were discovered in connections between subsea offloading hoses and submerged buoyancy tanks.
Last week, Kazakhstan’s third largest oil and condensate project, Karachaganak, resumed production after completing a maintenance programme — the biggest in its history — that lasted one and a half months, said its operator, Karachaganak Petroleum Operating.
The maintenance programme included shutting down the field and its gathering networks, gas and condensate processing units and export facilities at Atyrau and Bolshoi Chagan.
Up to 12,000 people have been involved in the Karachaganak maintenance programme, accounting for a total of 2.14 million man-hours worked, the operator said.
Despite the programme’s completion, the Kazakh Energy Ministry indicated just a minor increase in the country’s total oil production, with output hitting 1.8 million barrels on 30 October, against about 1.65 million barrels recorded a week earlier in October.
According to the ministry, Karachaganak produced an average of 245,000 barrels per day of oil last year.
Kazakhstan’s oil output fell to 1.4 million bpd by the beginning of October following the maintenance shutdown at Karachaganak and because of unresolved repair issues at an onshore oil and gas processing plant serving the offshore Kashagan development, the country’s second largest oil project.
Between 400,000 and 500,000 bpd of export capacity is expected to become available to the Karachaganak, Tengiz and Kashagan developments once Caspian Pipeline restores operations of its two idle tanker loading buoys.
Both units were shut in since the end of August after subsea surveys indicated cracks in the buoyancy tanks that support and stabilise oil feeding hoses between the onshore terminal and the buoys.
Caspian Pipeline has continued loading oil, using the single remaining buoy, with one industry source close to the project pointing out that the operator had been mostly successful in meeting the shipping requests of Kazakh oil producers in September and October, despite having two buoys shut.
Caspian Pipeline said Russian contractor Aliyans has been successful in lifting the old tank and lowering a replacement close to the first loading buoy.
Work is ongoing to position and secure the new tank underwater and reattach the hoses, the operator said.
The contractor will not be able to replace the tank for the second loading buoy until the successful completion of integrity tests on subsea feeding hoses at the first buoy, the operator added.
St Petersburg-based Aliyans has been managing the offshore support vessel Commander during the tank replacement works.
Meanwhile, another of the company’s vessels, Nefrit, has been deployed to the Baltic Sea under a contract with Gazprom-led Nord Stream, the operator of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, to survey damage to the pipeline caused by explosions at the end of September in the Swedish and Danish maritime zones.
Nord Stream said Nefrit will carry out its own survey after Sweden said it would not share with Russia the findings of its investigation into the incident.
Russia’s Ministry of Defence on Saturday claimed that UK Royal Navy personnel were behind the attacks on the Nord Stream 1& 2 pipelines, an allegation that the UK government has denied.
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