Russia’s leading position in the exploration and development of the Arctic’s huge gas deposits will enable it to dramatically increase its liquefied natural gas (LNG) output, confirming Russia’s status as an oil and gas superpower. Russia’s ambitious exploration and development program in the Arctic is a key part of Russia’s plan to become the key gas supplier to China in the future. With Russia’s presence in the Arctic gas sector secured, it is now shifting its focus to development of the oil sector.
Oilprice.com reports that last week Russia’s Gazprom Neft, the country’s third biggest oil company in terms of output and the oil arm of state gas giant Gazprom, shipped its first cargo of oil produced in the Arctic to China via the Northern Sea Route (NSR). This shipment to the East adds to its existing Western exports via the NSR to Europe.
According to Gazprom Neft, it took 47 days to deliver a full cargo of 144,000 tonnes of sweet, light Novy Port oil from the Yamal peninsula developments to the Chinese port of Yantai on the Bohai Sea. The company can now complement its sales of Arctic oil in the European market with sales to the Asia-Pacific markets, allowing Gazprom Neft to offer Novy Port oil with a year-round logistics scheme tailored to prevailing market and climatic conditions.
The first trial voyage along the Northern Sea Route (from the Far-Eastern Russian port of Vladivostok to St Petersburg) by a large-sized and strengthened container ship took place in August 2018. It is now set to become a major transport hub.
Yamal-centred LNG projects can now use the transport route to deliver cargoes both East and West. Russia’s second largest gas producer after Gazprom, Novatek, also has projects on the Yamal Peninsula and has managed to deliver almost all of its Yamal Peninsular (Yamal LNG) projects on budget and on time, notwithstanding the full weight of US sanctions being imposed on Russia in 2014.
Gazprom Neft started exporting oil produced in Russia’s Arctic exploration and development region in 2013, and has delivered at least 40 million tons of oil – including both the ARCO (Prirazlomnoye field) and Novy Port (Novoportovskoye field) blends – to several European countries. The Novy Port oil field is one of the largest oil and gas condensate fields in the Russian Arctic, with at least 250 million tons (around 1.8 billion barrels) of reserves.
Using a now proven system developed alongside Novatek – including the Prirazlomnaya oil production platform, the Arctic Gates oil terminal in the Gulf of Ob, a fleet of reinforced tankers including LNG vessels designed specifically to operate in the Arctic’s icy waters, escort icebreakers and an offshore oil shipment terminal in Murmansk – Gazprom Neft says that it can transport oil year-round (at minimal cost) to Europe.
To the East, there are more natural constraints, as very thick ice makes deliveries outside the summer period extremely difficult for much of the time, and the costs are higher than those to Europe. Prior to last week’s sale (which OilPrice.com reports probably went to state refiner, the China National Chemical Corporation, ChemChina), Novy Port oil had not been exported east to China via the Northern Sea Route. However, the enormous hit to the European refining sector this year caused demand to drop substantially, while demand in China dipped by a much smaller degree and recovered much more quickly.
“Although Gazprom Neft has historically sent ESPO crude to China via the pipeline, this new capability will be useful to other Russian companies for oil as well, not just Novatek for LNG,” a senior oil and gas analyst in Moscow told OilPrice.com last week.
Russia’s number two oil company, Lukoil, also conducted a test crude oil delivery last September, featuring its Varandey blend. This has very similar specifications to the Novy Port blend, with the latter having an API gravity of 35 degrees and a 0.1 per cent sulphur content, whilst Varandey has an API gravity of 35-37 degrees and a sulphur content of around 0.5 per cent.
At the same time as opening up new export routes for its oil, Gazprom Neft is working towards dramatically increasing the oil volumes from the Arctic that it can offer to the East. In 2017, it acquired the development rights to the Tazovskoye and Severo-Samburgskoye fields in the Yamalo-Nenets region, with the subsoil usage rights to the Tazovskoye block running until 2025, and those to the Severo-Samburgskoye block until 2027. The Tazovskoye field is estimated to have recoverable oil reserves of at least 72 million tonnes, condensate reserves of 4.6 million tonnes, and non-associated gas reserves of at elast 183.3 billion cubic metres.
The Severo-Samburgksoye block’s estimated oil reserves are even higher, at 90.5 million tonnes. This followed the commissioning only a year before of the huge Novoportskoye oil and gas field (estimated recoverable reserves of more than 250 million tonnes of crude and condensate, as well as more than 320 billion cubic metres of gas) and the Vostochno-Messoyakhskoye oil and gas field (recoverable reserves of more than 470 million tonnes of oil and gas condensate, and 188 billion cubic metres of gas). LINK