Engineering News

OUTLOOK: Floating Arctic Laboratory
February 05, 2009

As the oil and gas industry begins to take advantage of new shipping lanes within the Arctic Circle -- brought on by melting sea ice -- a team of maritime experts from Russia, South Korean, and the United States aims to set new safety standards for the specialized oil tankers that will traverse these routes.

A new frontier

It has been estimated that 30 percent of the world's untapped oil and gas lie beneath the Arctic Ocean. Given the lack of infrastructure in these remote, hard-to-access regions, tankers will play an important role in economically exploiting these resources. According to South Korean shipbuilding powerhouse Samsung Heavy Industries (SHI), at least 20 icebreaking tankers are expected to be built by 2015.

SHI will deliver one of these tankers, the Shturman Albanov, to the Russian shipping company Sovcomflot early this year. An "Arctic class shuttle tanker," the new vessel will do more than transport oil produced in the Barents Sea from the Varandey oil export terminal in Russia's Timan-Pechora region to markets worldwide. It will serve as a veritable laboratory that will help seafarers more safety negotiate passage in heavy ice. Moreover, it will help shipbuilders enhance the safety and performance of these specialized vessels.

An Arctic shuttle tanker is an oil tanker that also happens to be an icebreaker. Capable of breaking ice up to 1.6 meters thick in temperatures as low as -45 degrees Celsius, ships of this class are built to withstand collisions with floating ice. According to SHI, the vessel moves forward by breaking ice like an ordinary icebreaker. However, it can also turn its propeller 180 degrees to steer clear of oncoming icebergs. The Shturman Albanov will be Sovcomflot's third vessel of this burgeoning class.

Pioneering study

Sovcomflot, along with the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), ConocoPhillips, and SHI, will collaborate on an innovative study that will measure the effect of ice loads on Arctic class shuttle tanker performance. The research partners will equip the Shturman Albanov with an advanced fiber-optic monitoring system during its first two winter seasons in theBarents. The system will measure and record ice pressures and loads, computing ice-induced responses of the hull structure at highly loaded locations. A bridge display depicting a color plot of the pressure distribution over each area features an alarm to alert crews of large impacts.

"We have considerable experience measuring ice loads on ice breakers and smaller ships, but the scale effect of large ships operating in heavy ice conditions is not as well defined," said Aleksandr Iyerusalimskiy, Project Services, ConocoPhillips, which is developing the Varandey field with Lukoil. "We are excited to be part of a project that can contribute to improving our understanding of the safe operations of vessels in the Arctic."

ABS Research and Development Manager Han Yu said the goal of the project is to provide real-time feedback to operators to reduce the uncertainty that can exist today in navigating through heavy ice. The information will subsequently be used to mitigate the risks involved. "As vessel requirements change to meet industry needs, research continues to assess the practicality of these new designs in more extreme operating conditions," said Yu. "It is a fundamental element in the cycle of ship design."

The shrinking of the polar ice cap within the Arctic Circle, illustrated here over nearly three decades, is opening new shipping lanes for the oil and gas and other industries. Graphic based on NOAA data.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of the Interior

Source: Downstream Today

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