A View from South Stream Transport
The following interview with Sebastian Sass, Head of Communications & Spokesperson for the South Stream Transport Company, reveals interesting facets of the multicomplex offshore project.
South Stream’s route from Russia to Bulgaria, constitutes an energy project, which apart from its wider energy security ramifications, will implement distinct technical features in order to be able to transport significant amounts of natural gas at great depths via the Black Sea.
“By the end of 2018, the pipeline is planned to have reached a transport capacity of 63 billion cubic meters per year. Enough gigajoules to supply energy needs of 38 million households”
1) With regards to the timetable for construction completion of the offshore part of South Stream - when should it be expected to reach the Bulgarian coastline?
The South Stream Offshore Pipeline Project is on track to start commercial operations of the first line by the end of 2015. In accordance with the planning, the Front End Engineering and Design (FEED) and the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) are underway since March 2012 to be completed in 2013. The Final Investment Decision was taken in November 2012. Tenders for the production of pipe and offshore construction will be concluded in 2013, to start offshore pipe laying in 2014. How and where offshore pipeline installation will start or end, will be determined as part of a detailed construction schedule.
2) What constitutes in your opinion the most significant challenge for the South Stream offshore pipeline? Can the European energy community regard this project as a significant one in technical terms?
What makes South Stream Offshore Pipeline through the Black Sea technically advanced is not just its length of over 900 kilometers, but also its location. Much of the pipeline will run along the so called abyssal plain of the Black Sea, more than 2 kilometers deep. At these depths, we encounter a pressure of over 2.25 million kilograms per square meter. That is the weight of 12 Boeing 747’s resting on each square meter of the seabed. Our engineers are applying advanced pipeline design technology to create a pipe that will safely withstand such pressure, and even more. It will be built of 12-metre segments with steel walls almost 4 centimeters thick, weighing 9.000 kilo’s each. By combining existing production processes with the right coating and heat treatment techniques, the resilience of the pipe will be increased even further. The result is a pipeline design which is not only suitable for such depths, but also one of the safest of its kind due to its strength and wall thickness.
The Project will start on the Russian coast in Anapa, where four 32-inch pipelines will cross into the Black Sea. They will pass the Turkish Exclusive Economic Zone to come ashore at the Bulgarian coast near Varna. Consequently, we conduct Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and permitting procedures in each of the three countries whose waters the pipeline will pass – Russia, Turkey and Bulgaria. We have started the respective processes and are in a constant and productive exchange with the competent authorities in all of these countries.
4) Please comment on the energy security supply significance of the South Stream project for the European Union and for the future of the European gas market.
Europe’s energy needs are growing, and natural gas is playing an ever more important role in the European energy mix, alongside renewables. The South Stream Offshore Pipeline will provide a safe and reliable transport system, enabling stable, long-term energy supplies to Europe. It will be the key link between consumers in Central and South-Eastern Europe and the world’s largest proven reserves of natural gas in Russia. By the end of 2018, the pipeline is planned to have reached a transport capacity of 63 billion cubic meters per year. Enough gigajoules to supply energy needs of 38 million households.
5) In the past there has been a focus on environmental challenges in the Black Sea when assessing energy projects. How do you view any arguments as such in relation to the offshore part of South Stream and did you have any specific challenges in that area?
The protection of the Black Sea environment is one of our guiding principles. In addition to safety in construction and operations, we are also focusing on the ecological and socio-economic environment of the Project. We are conducting an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment which includes life around the landfall and offshore. It also takes into account matters such as cultural heritage and communities in the vicinity of the Project. Thus, the Project will meet internationally recognized standards for health, safety, security and environmental performance. We are also in a dialogue with the Black Sea Commission for instance to ensure that our Project meets the expectations which are applied for the assessment of energy projects.
6) Finally, has there been any kind of consultation or support by the European Union authorities, regarding the offshore part of the pipeline.
The South Stream Offshore Pipeline is a project of major significance for the whole European Union. However, the Offshore Pipeline is located outside the scope EU internal energy market legislation. The progress of the Project is not dependent on receiving any specific status from EU institutions but it is worth acknowledging that a number of countries have recognized its relevance by granting a priority status under their domestic legislation.