Saturday, August 25, 2007

Kazakhstan Tengiz Oil Fields, June 1996

Dear Colleagues,

In early 1996, TengizChevroil (TCO) joint venture asked their major contractor company Bechtel of USA to make condition assessment of the existing thermal power plant in the Tengiz field. Bechtel transferred the request to their recommended boiler supplier, Babcock & Wilcox Company of McDermott Group of companies. The Group decided to send two site supervisors/ managers to Tengiz Oil field.

Mr. Alan E. Reid, Service Engineer from Babcock & Wilcox International Inc of Barberton, Ohio USA, and Mr. Walid A. Bader, Area Marketing Manager from McDermott Offshore Drilling Inc of Houston Texas USA were sent to Tengiz Oil Fields in Kazakhstan in June 1996.

Condition assessment study of the existing steam boilers would be made on paid basis, and hence all expenses would be paid by the client and a lump sum engineering fee (50K USD) would additionally be paid to the invited company.

Since we were the B&W’s closest JV company to the Tengiz site, I was also asked to join the team to support them at site and get ready for necessary proposal preparation if/when needed in future.

Tengiz field, in western Kazakhstan, is located in the low-lying wetlands along the northeast shores of the Caspian Sea. Discovered in 1979, Tengiz oil field is one of the largest discoveries in recent history. The city of Atyrau, 350 kilometers north of Tengiz, is the main transport hub of Tengiz oil. Many nations are involved in a large geopolitical competition to secure access to this source of oil.

I took the appropriate/ connecting flight from Istanbul to Budapest to catch the next charter flight of Chevron/ Bechtel employees to the Tengiz Oil fields. In Budapest, our team has gathered. Our flight was from Budapest to Atyrau of Kazakhstan on a charter flight weekly operated by Hungarian Airlines on a Tupolev 124 Russian made plane. Other passengers were from Chevron employees from Louisiana Gulf offshore or onshore oil fields, riggers, diggers, mechanics, oilmen with difficult southern accent and the engineers from Bechtel London office, mostly British nationals, as well as employees of auxiliary services such as catering, logistics etc.

After 4 hours of flight, we landed to Atyrau airport. It took almost four (4) more hours to pass the custom clearance for all 150 passengers, since there were no computers for registration and all paper work was done manually. Then snacks and water was distributed. We were invited to board buses to go to the Tengiz oil fields almost 350 kms far from the airport in the desert. Vehicles were old Russian made, with no air conditioning. All curtains were down, all windows were wide open in order to reduce the desert heat. Road was in single lane wornout, sometimes rough bare soil with loopholes all the way.

After 3 hours, buses stopped on the open-air, in the middle of desert, people shouted as “Peace Break”, which had a different meaning but equivocal. Men lined up on one side of the empty road for relaxation and smoking, and leg stretching, ladies did the same on the other side of the road. We repeated that ritual two more times before we reached to the camp site in the oil fields.

Estimated at up to 25 billion barrels (4 km³) of oil originally in place, Tengiz is the sixth largest oil field in the world; recoverable crude oil reserves have been estimated at 6 to 9 billion barrels (0.9 to 1.4 km³). Like many other oil fields, the Tengiz also contains large reserves of natural gas.

At the camp site, we were given individual rooms with bed only but no toilet, no shower in prefabricated barracks. Our barracks were allocated for local Russian/ Kazakh female workers/ office staff/ lawyers/ accountants and for the international service staff who were in Tengiz Oil Fields for short term stay.
We were supposed to use the common toilet facilities in the middle of the barracks. Respective Men/ Women Toilets, and showers had no doors at the entrance nor anywhere inside, all open.

The next morning we had registered, filled many forms, administration took Polaroid photos and created ID cards which we should expected to carry all times. Then we took safety crash course for one full day.

Since the oil from Tengiz contains a high amount of sulfur (up to 17%), 9 million tons of sulfur byproduct has been stored in sulfur blocks. We saw those sulfur blocks in piles.

Crush course on site safety was because of any dangerous gas / sulfur leaks which happened in the past in similar sites and resulted many human losses. In that safety course we were taught what to do in case of any dangerous gas leak, where to go, how to use our gas masks, how to vacate the site, where to escape. In the end we took a written examination and got certificate / license to work in the site.

The TengizChevroil (TCO) joint venture has developed the Tengiz field since 1993.
The major partners in TengizChevroil are Chevron (50% ownership), ExxonMobil (25% ownership), the Kazakhstani government through KazMunayGas (20% ownership) and Russian LukArco (5%).

Every morning at about 0500 hours you wake up, go to the common toilette section, get cleaned, return to your room, get dressed, board the service busses and go to the production site/ oil fields/ offices to work which was almost 25 kms far from the camping site.

Bus ride takes about 30 minutes. It was also a safety precaution for any gas leaks at the working site. We had individual gas masks. Oil field was in the middle of an empty stone/sand desert, no animal, no plant anywhere.

Each day we were working from 06 to 18 hours with one hour lunch break, for 6 days in a week plus Sunday morning.

The Tengiz oil field is one of the biggest in the world. It contains 24 billion barrels of high quality oil and six to nine billion barrels of recoverable oil. It is deep, having a target depth of 4,500 meters. It also contains significant gas reserves (18,000 billion cubic meters).

An area of major geopolitical competition involves the routing of oil out of this oil field. Oil from the Tengiz field is primarily routed to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk through the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) project.
The field required a great deal of infrastructure investment to develop. Most of this was designed and implemented by the Russian Technical Design Institutes, but a consortium of western contractors built the processing plant. The consortium included Lurgi, Litwin and Lavalin.

The second day we were exposed to the power house which houses in-door 7 each 40 tons per hour steam output capacity field erected steam boilers, which were in a very poor operating conditions, not properly maintained for a long time but barely serving the facilities steam demand.

We spent next two full weeks in the power house, inspected in and out of steam boilers, furnace walls, drums, generating banks, superheaters, safety valves, instrumentation and controls, pumps, external and internal steam pipes/ tubes, technical drawings. We took photographs, we measured tube and drum thicknesses. We noted every information of the subject boilers. On the site we drafted our preliminary “Site Report” to finalize the actual “Condition Assessment” report upon return to our home offices.

The only Sunday we were at the site, we visited the nearby Turkish Contractor’s site a few miles away. Compared to our facility, which was purchased from the former Hungarian State contractors camp facility, and kept in operation with minimum renovation, Turkish site facility was new, better. Each worker/ technician/ engineer had a separate room with shower and toilet. They had satellite TV access, latest PC hardware and software, construction machineries, all in good condition, machine shop etc. They had delicious fresh food, and very civilized working environment. They were subcontractors of TCO and Bechtel at oil field, pipeline construction and engineering in the offices.

In our TCO offices at the oil field working site, each person/ engineer/ worker has to work full four weeks, then go to vacation for next four weeks, giving his space/ table/ responsibility to his/her replacement person. This type of work was/ still is called “28/28 rotation”. Normal working practice was such that they would be solving the easy daily problems and leaving the troubles to his/her replacement. In the offices it was my sincere feeling that they had very tense, difficult peer relations, stressful, sort of mobbing conditions.

At dinner time, we had choices of meat/ chicken/ fish all from frozen stock, plus rice/ pasta/ potatoes with some green salad, milky dessert and fruit juice. After dinner, we had nothing to do. We were taking our tea/ coffee, sitting on our dinner table and watching other people, have some conversation with the local ladies and then we all go to sleep.

Office/ Catering/ Service works were handled by local Russian/ Kazakh ladies who were relatively well educated personnel, lawyers/ administrative staff, typist/ translators etc. They were beautiful daughters of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky and you could talk on very intellectual conversations long hours.

At the end our site surveillance on the power house, we completed our site activity and returned to our offices at our respective countries. We exchanged our notes and completed and submitted our final “Condition Assessment Report” on the existing steam boilers to TCO authorities.

In summary we were advising them that they should dismantle and replace the existing steam boilers, open a public tender to purchase new packaged steam boilers from international markets.

We also added our budget/ estimated / lump sum/ ball park proposal for new 4 each 70 tph packaged steam boilers for their budget.

In year 1997 we received the order in open international competitive tendering for construction/ fabrication/ installed/ operation of 4 new package boilers within 12 months.

Our Client was BECHTEL International Inc. in United Kingdom, and we were responsible for the followings: Design and detail engineering, 4 each 70 tons per hour, FM 120/97 type steam boiler supply and installation, Supply and installation of Draft system, Feed water system, blow-off and drain system, external piping, raw water treatment system, condensate treatment system, Paint, refractory, insulation, automation of related equipment with material supply, Tests and commissioning, Operation and maintenance manual. Price was approximately 10 million US Dollars (in 2007 prices).

What happened to the young talented international engineers we met at the site. They had short term love affairs with the daughters of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy who were highly educated, sincere, romantic and delicate, and couples ended up with long term marriages. Ladies of Tengiz desert left their country and emigrated to Louisiana USA, London UK or Istanbul Turkey. International engineers had high degree of possession instinct, which the local counterparts had minimal or almost lack of, due to long Soviet reign.

So our companies have also worked for mixing cultures as well as genes.

Your comments are always welcome.