People power: building a gas project across three countries (and counting)

Last edited: 2 July 2018

Tens of thousands of people have played their part in delivering a new source of gas from the Caspian Sea to Turkey. By 2020, gas will travel across another three countries and be available to markets in Western Europe. Individuals across Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey – as well as many other nations – each have a story to tell about their experiences on one of the world’s largest energy projects

BP Magazine meets a handful of the people involved to hear how they made it happen.

Azerbaijan

Achievements at a glance: full development of the Shah Deniz field in the Caspian Sea with two new offshore platforms and installation of subsea system; extension of onshore Sangachal terminal; 400km+ extension of an existing pipeline.

Name: Rahman Rahmanov
Discipline: 
electrical engineer
Joined BP:
2003
Current job: 
project general manager, onshore facilities

“I’ve been lucky to be on the Shah Deniz 2 project from the early days of planning the two new offshore bridge-linked platforms for the Caspian Sea. In 2011, I moved to London, UK, for three years where we did all of the initial activity to prepare to build the topsides in Azerbaijan.

Once everything was ready, I returned to Baku to oversee the construction of some 30,000 tonnes of steel – roughly the total weight of the two topside decks that we built simultaneously in the Amec-Tefken-Azfen yard.

'A probability of 3% to meet schedule'

Few thought it would be possible to build these alongside one another at the same time – in fact, a computer model gave us a probability of 3% that we would complete it on schedule. But, we did deliver them both safely, on time and on budget. 

Before we even started the fabrication in summer 2014, we invested more than $60 million to upgrade the local construction yard to accommodate our needs. We also trained more than 230 Azerbaijani welders to work on what we call ‘exotic’ metals – that’s to say non-carbon steel.

Those skills were not previously available in the country, but the topsides are made of a variety of high-specification materials that require highly-qualified welders.

At the height of construction activity, we had more than 5,000 people working in the yard, not forgetting the hundreds of people who did the engineering in London and beyond.

By the end of 2016, the topsides were ready to sail away, making a 90- kilometre-journey by barge from the yard to their offshore location. I was slightly sad not to see the sail-away myself as by then I had transferred to a new role.

'New set of challenges'

I was asked to join the Sangachal terminal expansion team – another part of the Shah Deniz 2 project. I took the opportunity to test myself again; it was very different to the topsides project manager job where I’d been on board since the beginning.

There was a new set of challenges including double the workforce with 10,000 people on site for construction, a testing schedule, and expanded responsibilities and accountabilities for me. The new gas plant lies across 88 hectares – it’s widespread, making logistics planning crucial. What may seem like a minor interruption, such as a rain storm, could cause havoc for several days because suddenly there was mud when you’re trying to lay concrete.

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Extra capacity: the changing face of Sangachal terminal

However, we’ve finished the job on time and that’s testament to the whole team here. The expanded terminal is ‘hydrocarbon live’ as we describe it and we’ve even welcomed the President of Azerbaijan here to mark the achievement.

When I think back to first joining the project in 2011, I’d just got married. Now I have two children, aged six and four – that’s how long I’ve been working on this! Seven years of your life is a commitment but what a fantastic journey – if I theoretically had a chance to go back and do something different, like in the movies, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Name: Esmira Qudratova
Discipline:
mechanical engineer
Joined BP:
2014
Current job: 
hook-up and commissioning engineer, offshore facilities

“After joining BP’s petro-technical resource entry programme straight out of university, my very first experience in the industry was on the subsea fabrication team for the Shah Deniz 2 project. It’s been amazing to be part of BP’s largest project in the world.

At first, I supported the construction of the subsea safety isolation valves skids – these are fitted to pipelines to protect offshore platforms by automatically shutting down the gas flow from the riser pipes in case of an incident.

I was also assigned to the fabrication of the flowline termination assembly units; the cluster of flowlines feed into these components on the seabed. It was the first time these pieces of subsea equipment had been built in Azerbaijan and I was really proud to be part of that national milestone.

After 18 months, when the fabrication process on the subsea equipment had become routine, it was time to move on to the topsides commissioning team, which is totally different. That doesn’t involve actually assembling the components, but function testing them to verify that they meet design standards. I was responsible for checks and liaising with vendors on the chemical injection package – that system sends scale inhibitors into subsea pipelines to effectively ‘clean’ them and reduce any scale building up there. In other words, they maintain the integrity of the pipelines for the gas.

'It was quite a sight to witness preparations for sail-away'

Moving the enormous topsides structures from the yard onto a barge is a delicate and time-consuming process; we are talking weeks rather than hours. One evening we left work and the topsides were there, the next morning one deck had disappeared – it had sailed at first light after three-and-a-half-years construction on land. Two months later, the same thing happened with the second deck.

Next, I moved into the hook-up and commissioning team, where I lived offshore on the new platforms with 227 other people. There was so much to do to prepare the platforms for operations. We had to finish the construction work first, but we couldn’t install the bridge between the two platforms until the process & risers deck had been floated over the jacket.

Once that was complete, it allowed us to start several major activities simultaneously – welding the 16 topsides legs to the jackets was one of the most time-consuming operations. The commissioning teams then needed to recheck all the equipment previously pre-commissioned onshore – because parts can move during all the preparations and operations for the sailaway.

We’ve now handed over all the offshore facilities to the Operations teams and I’m back in the yard office finishing the paperwork. As the project delivers first commercial gas to Turkey, I’m proud to have played my part. I’ve seen and touched almost everything that is now sitting offshore and that’s incredible.”

Georgia

Achievements at a glance: two new gas compressor stations; 60+km extension of existing pipeline in east of country, new pressure reduction and metering station plus new pipeline connection at Turkish border.

Name: Erekle Lezhava
Discipline: 
physicist
Joined BP:
1998
Current job: 
Southern Caucasus Pipeline Expansion (SCPX) project operations manager

“This is not the first big project I’ve worked on in our region; I was part of the team to start-up the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline 15 years ago. 

We learned a lot from that – including the importance of making sure our Operations teams were involved with the SCPX project from the early stages of design and engineering. It’s important that the people who operate the facilities can provide insight while a concept is still on paper.

I joined as a project engineer in 2011 and spent four years in London before returning here to Georgia as we approached start-up. We have built two new compressor stations, each the size of approximately 20 football pitches, as well as expanded the existing SCP pipeline for more than 60 kilometres and added a connection facility at the Turkish border. During the construction phase, we had more than 6,000 employed in different capacities on the project here.

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In transit: how gas travels through Georgia

The first compressor station, closest to Azerbaijan, is now operational. That’s the only one we need to deliver the first quantity of gas into Turkey.

As production from the Shah Deniz Bravo platform ramps up, the second compressor station, near Tsalka, will be necessary to pump the extra volumes of gas over the border and onwards.

That second facility, which sits at an altitude of more than 1,700 metres, will be ready early next year.

The second compressor site has been our biggest challenge in Georgia due to its location on a mountainside, which was dictated largely by hydraulics and the need to minimize impact on local communities. Arctic-like conditions prevail up there for half the year, although we’ve been fortunate to have two milder winters recently.  It’s a four-hour drive from our capital Tbilisi, but that doesn’t really reveal its remoteness. Logistics have not been easy – we had to build a 16-kilometre access road from the main highway to reach the site.

'Commitment for 100% national operations staff'

During normal operations, around 40 people will work at each compressor station – and we made a commitment from the outset that those Operations teams will be 100% national staff. Aside from operating the facilities, our attention now turns to the remaining parts of the project – tying in the pipeline expansion at the Azerbaijan end and completing the second compressor station.

There’s hardly been a moment to reflect on this major milestone as commercial gas is delivered to Turkey for the first time. It feels as though our collective efforts across borders are a great example of our ‘one team’ value. I’m proud to work with our neighbours in Azerbaijan and Turkey, and beyond. I’m marking my 20-year anniversary at BP this month – and this feels like a good reason to celebrate as well. The team here in Georgia is like a big family, many of us have been around since for two decades. It doesn’t feel that long; time really does fly. I could probably write a book on what I’ve learned.”

Turkey

Achievements at a glance: new 1,850km pipeline, operated by TANAP with BP among the shareholders. Gas delivered to BOTAS terminal at Eskişehir.

Name: Ersal Kuzuoglu
Discipline: 
petroleum engineer
Joined BP:
2001
Current job: 
TANAP deputy project manager

“The Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline – or TANAP – is the longest pipeline ever built in Turkey. It sits in the middle of the Southern Gas Corridor that will eventually carry Shah Deniz gas all the way from the Caspian into Europe. 

In fact, TANAP represents almost 53% of the total length of that vast pipeline network so we’ve had a big task in Turkey.

I first worked on the Shah Deniz 2 project in Azerbaijan, as part of the ‘early works’ – or facilities’ preparation – team for the onshore terminal expansion at Sangachal. Then, I came home to Ankara to take on my current role. TANAP is a brand new company established to build the pipeline here. BP has a 12% shareholding in the venture and we work closely with TANAP and the other partners to support the safe, timely and cost-effective delivery of the new pipeline.

TANAP has direct responsibility for the pipeline and the first 1,350km section needed to deliver gas to the terminal at Eskişehir is ready. From there, gas will enter Turkey’s national grid ready for customers. Construction activities are still ongoing for the second stage of the pipeline – the western end that will take gas onwards to Greece. That is also on schedule to be complete in summer 2019.

To give a sense of the scale of this achievement, the first piece of metal for the pipeline was welded in August 2015 and the first hydrocarbon molecule entered the eastern end in January 2018 – that’s fewer than 30 months. The initial 600km of pipeline from the Georgian border is located at an average altitude of around 2,000 metres on very steep slopes that represent major construction challenges. On top of that, there are seasonal constraints due to bad weather which limits when we can work.

'More than 150,000 pieces of pipe'

From east to west, the new pipeline makes more than 4,400 road, river or railway crossings. More than 150,000 pieces of pipe have been moved from their manufacturing facility to a storage site and then to their relevant location along the route.

The logistics behind such an operation are phenomenal – what an effort to make sure each piece arrives safely at its correct location, on time! At the peak of construction, around 15,000 people worked on the project here – and they’ve delivered a high quality job.

This has been my first experience working on a non-BP operated project – and slightly different rules apply. It’s our role as a partner, and the only international oil company involved, to share our experiences from elsewhere in an advisory capacity and to create a supportive environment for the project to succeed.

From a personal perspective, this is my second time helping to build a pipeline in Turkey. I worked on the BTC pipeline and watched the first oil tanker sail away from Ceyhan terminal in 2006.

That was a memorable moment and this is another such milestone; gas from the Caspian Sea means a diversified, cleaner energy source for our country. I’m very proud on behalf of TANAP and our colleagues in the region for this amazing achievement.”

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