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Safety seals for Russian oil

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Off the icy coast of Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East, stands an amazing engineering feat that will provide crucial oil and gas to the growing economies of Asia.

Over a period of 30years, it is estimated that the Sakhalin facility will produce the equivalent of Russia's total crude oil exports for more than one year (1 billion barrels) and its total gas sales to Europe for five years (500 billion cubic metres).

The area has a high level of seismic activity, making it prone to earthquakes. There is fog for most of the winter, often making it difficult to land by helicopter on the platform. Once production is fully in progress, more than 200 employees will work on the platforms

To gain access to this bonanza, a consortium of companies, including Shell and Mitsubishi, is investing billions of dollars in building offshore platforms and onshore processing plants along the east coast of Sakhalin. Extracting the black gold is no easy task.

"The fields are located in a very difficult and challenging area: there is a high risk of earthquakes, temperatures range from 39°C below freezing to a warm 28° and, in winter, pack ice comes crashing in," explains Bj?rnar Langelo, senior engineer for safety and reliability at Aker Kv?rner, the Norwegian company in charge of building the base structures for two offshore platforms.

"We were dealing with a project 11 time zones away," he explains. "With staff from Russia, Norway, Finland and other countries, it was a great challenge to coordinate the work and ensure accurate communications between all those involved. But everyone struggled as a unified team to get everything done on time."

One major challenge for Aker Kv?rner was to protect the concrete structures, as well as the pipes transporting the oil and gas from under the ocean floor, from potential fires and explosions.

This was a particular concern because of the high level of seismic activity in the area, making earthquakes a potential threat. "If a fire occurs on the platform, it could spread down into the shaft and damage the structure," says Langelo.

Likewise, "a gas leak on the platform could enter the shaft, blend with oxygen in the air and cause an explosion."

The answer is called jet-fire seals. The seals delay the fire, giving the people on the rig time to evacuate. This is where Trelleborg came in. Aker Kv?rner called on Trelleborg Viking in Norway.

"We knew from experience that Trelleborg Viking had useful ideas and a great deal of goodwill," says Langelo.

"The company is known for being very flexible and easy to cooperate with. It also had effective technical solutions that met all the challenging requirements of this project."

"There was enormous pressure on Trelleborg Viking to get things done as deadlines approached," says Langelo. "But it managed to complete tasks faster than we thought possible."

Seals save lives

"This was Trelleborg Viking's largest project to date," says project manager Merete R?nningen of the contract.

At its premises in Krokstadelva, 60 kilometres west of Oslo, the company designed and produced 156 jet-fire seals, around 1m high and 2.5m wide.

"The challenge was to create a product that was resistant to fires and explosions, but also sufficiently flexible," adds Terje Fossesholm, manager of the offshore projects department. "Usually, jet-fire seals are designed for small movements, between 10mm and 50mm, but because of the earthquake risk at Sakhalin, they had to be able to withstand movements of 500-600mm."

The solution is a combination of reinforced, synthetic rubber - and much hard work.

© Oil & Gas Engineer Magazine

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