No. 1, 2011

Maria Kutuzova


The interpenetration of space and oil and gas technologies opens up new prospects for both sectors

Satellite images are in growing demand in the oil and gas sector. Satellite radar images of the water surface can be of great help in detecting oil slicks on large water areas, since these images are virtually unaffected by the cloud cover, lighting and other weather conditions. In Russia, the agenda includes creating the Arctica space-based observing system, the first satellite of which might go into orbit in three years' time. The system will provide for effective monitoring of natural resources in the Arctic seas and, in general, promote Russia's national interests in the Arctic region.

Satellite surveillance of the Arctic shelf

In August 2010, the Economic Development Ministry of the Russian Federation approached the Government with a proposal to start deploying the Arctica space-based system since 2014 to monitor the meteorological situation and promote geological

exploration in the Arctic region. As of today, within the scope of the current Federal space programs, Russia is creating hydrometeorological space vehicles that cover the Earth up to latitude 60 only. That is why the work of Roskosmos on creating space systems capable of working in real time in the Arctic region is so urgent.

According to Anatoly Perminov, head of Roskosmos, it is proposed to create the Arctica space-based system to observe weather changes and assist in mineral prospecting in the Arctic. The system will include, in particular, two meteorological optical satellites, an Arctica-R radar satellite to determine the precise ice situation, and two Arctica-MS communications satellites.

The system will help ensure the priority of Russia's national interests in the Arctic, above all in searching for and developing new hydrocarbon fields on the Arctic shelf. This work must inevitably be accompanied by space monitoring to ensure the safety of oil and gas production and transportation, particularly along the Northern Sea Route. The Arctica system will consist of two subsystems: first, a radar monitoring subsystem comprising two satellites in sun synchronous orbit, and second, an Arctica-M subsystem for hydrometeorological monitoring and orderwire and emergency communications also comprising two space vehicles on a high elliptical orbit.

Both subsystems will have ground-based control centers, and ground-based facilities for data acquisition, processing and distribution. Data will be received by Roskosmos and Rosgidromet at one and the same time.

Let us recall that the first Russian satellite communications systems at the northern fields in Urengoy, Nadym, Yamburg and on Yamal were successfully developed back in the early 1990s. Russia's tremendous experience of developing satellite communications for the needs of the oil and gas industry allows us to hope for successful implementation of the project for creating the Arctica system, too.

Ecospace monitoring

Yet a substantial proportion of the satellite services used by Russian companies is currently still provided by foreign firms, such as Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT) - one of the leading world satellite centers. Since 1994, it has been engaged in global monitoring of oil pollution. With its head office in Tromso (Norway), it has additional ground-based satellite stations in Grimstad, on Spitzbergen and in the Antarctic. The KSAT receiving stations receive radar data from the ASAR ENVISAT satellite of the European Space Agency, which was launched in March 2002, and transmit it to various government and commercial organizations in real time. The radar set is used to monitor oil slicks and ice on the surface of the seas, to measure various oceanic phenomena (currents, fronts, eddies, subsurface waves), locate vessels, search for oil and gas fields and for other purposes.

This satellite data is used by the coastguard, national environmental agencies, oil, shipping, fishing and insurance companies, as well as other organizations. In March 2004, JSC LUKOIL-Kaliningradmorneft began well drilling and then oil production at the Kravtsovskoye field from the D-6 ice-resistant fixed platform. Since June 2004, constant operational satellite monitoring of the south-eastern part of the Baltic has been carried out as a component part of environmental monitoring efforts. And in 2009, operational satellite monitoring was carried out of the locations of the offshore ice-resistant fixed platforms at the Korchagin field in the Caspian. Its performance was ordered by LUKOIL-Nizhnevolzhskneft. No oil pollution was identified within the Company's license sectors.

Robonauts in deep ocean and space

The oil and gas companies are extremely interested in development of deep-water resources (usually meaning at a depth of over 450-500 m). These resources are estimated at 60 billion barrels of oil equivalent, which is, given current demand levels, enough to supply the United States for about ten years. Work at such inaccessible places requires, however, that a whole series of complex technical difficulties be overcome. These include creating new platforms of different types; developing innovative underwater equipment for working at low temperatures, tremendous water pressure, strong currents and tropical storms; seeking cost-effective means for simultaneous development of formations scattered many miles about.

Today, it is robots that reign in the underwater world at depths of hundreds and even thousand of meters, where the sun's rays never penetrate and the water pressure is so great that no diver could ever survive. Remote-controlled underwater craft were developed for military purposes back in the 1960s. Then, 20 years later, they were taken over by oil and gas companies. Even though there are over 600 such craft in the world, of different sizes, forms and functions, their creation and use are still seen as innovation.

The humanoid robot Robonaut, developed 10 years ago, was intended for construction and repair work in open space. The robot is equipped with manipulators similar to human arms and highly-sensitive sensors. Not long ago, NASA, in collaboration with General Motors, brought out a direct descendent of the space robot - Robonaut-2. The specialists hope that this robot will be widely applied to perform underwater work on Earth, too. In addition, General Motors intends to use the two-armed assistants in manufacturing cars, though Robonaut-2 is to work in a team, together with people, in workshops where there is a higher risk of industrial injury to workers.

Fairly recently, leading scientific research centers and universities of the United States and Canada launched the large-scale Neptune project in the Pacific. On the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate, located in the vicinity of North America, an actual robot village has taken shape, covering a total of 0.5 million km2. The surface intended for the study is broken down into 50 sectors, linked by a fiber-optic network and power cables leading to the continent. The robots are equipped with all sorts of chemical analyzers, movement sensors, precision videocameras and sensors for monitoring the planet's geological activity. They travel along the seabed like lunar or Mars rovers, engage in drilling work, study the local flora and fauna and take video recordings of it all, returning from time to time to the communications hubs for recharging and data transmission.

The robotic machines, originally created to study space bodies, are today used extensively on Earth for performing underwater work on implementing oil and gas projects. They are used, for example, to make detailed maps of the seabed for subsequent installation of underwater production complexes. Yet the prospects for their use are considerably broader and connected with further advance of the oil and gas industry into the depths of the World Ocean. Autonomous underwater machines are used for geological prospecting and for monitoring the operation of underwater complexes and pipelines.

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Oil of Russia, No. 1, 2011
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