Gazprom has completed the capacity upgrade of the bottlenecked segment of a gas trunkline that runs from Sakhalin Island to the mainland cities of Komsomolsk, Khabarovsk and Vladivostok in Russia’s far east.

The state-controlled gas monopoly said an additional pipe string has been laid to cover the 390 kilometres between Komsomolsk (also known as Komsomolsk-na-Amure) and Khabarovsk.

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The Sakhalin-Khabarovsk-Vladivostok trunkline went into operation in 2011 and has annual throughput capacity of 5.5 billion cubic metres.

However, the network relied on a lower-diameter pipeline between Komsomolsk and Khabarovsk that limited options to increase annual throughput capacity to as much as 20 Bcm with the installation of booster compressors.

Since its commissioning in 2011, the pipeline has been operating mostly during the winter because of the lack of year-round demand for gas from industrial consumers in this large but economically undeveloped region.

In winter, demand has been coming mostly from utilities providing domestic and industrial heating.

Moreover, two big heating and power utilities in Komsomolsk have long-term commitments to buy natural gas from the ExxonMobil-led Sakhalin 1 oil and gas development that is being delivered via another legacy pipeline from the island.

According to the Russian Ministry of Energy, Sakhalin 1 produced 11.6 Bcm of natural and bypass gas last year, with more than half of that delivered via a trunkline to heating and power utilities in Komsomolsk.

This Okha-Komsomolsk legacy pipeline was built in Soviet times to bring gas from onshore developments in the north of Sakhalin Island to Komsomolsk. Sakhalin 1 later began using it to commercialise its vast offshore reserves near the island.

The Sakhalin 1 partners initially planned to build a subsea export pipeline to Japan. However, the plan was blocked by Gazprom.

The consortium is understood to have recently completed a front-end engineering design study to build a liquefied natural gas export plant near the De-Kastri oil export terminal in the Khabarovsk region. However, it has yet to provide a firm timeline.

Gazprom said it is “working with consumers” to persuade them to switch away from gas supplies via the Okha-Komsomolsk pipeline to taking gas deliveries from its own Sakhalin-Khabarovsk-Vladivostok line.

Reports in Moscow said this switch has been backed by the government following the visit of Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin to the region in the summer. He reportedly described the Okha-Komsomolsk pipeline as “outdated”.

According to Gazprom’s earlier announcements, the Sakhalin-Khabarovsk-Vladivostok trunkline may eventually be used to pump gas from its offshore projects near Sakhalin to northeastern China, once a binding agreement is reached to build a second export pipeline to China.

Some gas from Sakhalin may also be delivered to Vladivostok, where Gazprom is considering its own LNG plant with a capacity of up to 1.5 million tonnes per annum.