On June 9, 2021 in the mode of a teleconference the start ceremony in work of the first technological line of the Amur gas processing plant (GPZ) — one of the most powerful in the world took place. Implementation of such a large-scale project in the field of processing has no analogs in the history of the Russian gas industry.

The President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, the Chairman of the board of PAO Gazprom Alexey Miller and the Governor of Amur region Vasily Orlov took part in the event.
«Amur GPZ is one of the most modern and hi-tech productions in the world. The schedule of construction was extremely fixed. It took less than six years from the first pile before start-up. The unprecedented amount of work was executed during this time. Today the Amur gas processing plant is started in work and became an integral part of uniform production system of Gazprom», — Alexey Miller told.
At the end of April Gazprom spent ordinary Investor Day. The management of the company declared that will bring payment of dividends to 50% of net profit (it is a requirement of the government to the companies with the state participation). It was told about advancing demand for natural gas in the field of power industry by 2040, about enormous increase in demand for natural gas from China and also that financial results of the corporation were better than expectations of most of analysts. The Gazprom group finished 2020 with profit among the few energy companies of the world. But not these data excited the public most of all.
The greatest response was received by the words of the Chairman of the Board of PAO Gazprom Alexey Miller that the company «changes strategy a little bit «. These words were apprehended too literally. Even large federal mass media as if forgot about long-term efforts of Gazprom in the field of development of processing industries. The company is still perceived thoughtlessly as gas exporter only. Well, such a «small» change of strategy should have strong reasons. And they are available: in June, 2021 Gazprom placed the first production line of Amur gas processing plant (GPZ) into operation — one of the largest GPZ in the world.

Small change of strategy    

The most surprising that «small change of strategy» of Gazprom does not exist in vacuum. This year it is ten years since realization of the state program of deep modernization of oil and gas complex began. The most obvious result for wide audience is universal replacement of gasoline and diesel of the second and third ecological classes by fuel of the fifth ecological class (Euro-5). Nevertheless, there are people who sacredly believe that the Russian Euro-5 is not the same Euro-5 that in the EU and our fuel is incommensurably worse. Possibly, it is simpler to them to believe that 10 mg of sulfur on 1 kg of the Russian fuel is significantly more than 10 mg of sulfur on 1 kg of the «European» fuel than in essential changes of domestic processing industry.
At the same time for last years in installations of secondary oil refining it was invested about 1.5 trillion rubles, and it is planned to invest about 800 billion more rubles till 2027. In total it must be put into operation 30 new installations. In this regard in April, 2021 the Ministry of Energy signed with oil refineries the investment agreement on granting an extra charge to a returnable excise on oil raw materials till January 1, 2031.
A reader can have a reasonable question: where does Gazprom and its change of milestones come in? Actually it has a direct bearing on the aforesaid. First, the Group includes the Gazprom Oil Company, which plants have been continuously modernizing more than ten years. Secondly, there is Gazprom Neftekhim Salavat among the plants which signed the agreement with the Ministry of Energy. This is one of the leaders of the Group not only in the sphere of oil processing but also petrochemicals, as well as in the sphere of mineral fertilizers production. That is Gazprom makes many years such products as butyl alcohols, softeners, styrene, ammonia, polyethylene and other products of advanced processing of natural gas, stabilized gas condensate, broad fraction of light hydrocarbons and oil. Besides for last years Gazprom systematically modernized all the overworking enterprises including Astrakhan gas processing plant, Orenburg gas processing plant and Surgut condensate stabilization plant.
One of the most landmark events of last years was that the company mastered production of unique for our country product — liquid helium. Here is such «a little bit new strategy». Gazprom throughout all the history pays attention to oil and gas processing. And now the company puts the most powerful Amur gas processing plant into operation.
It is remarkable that construction of this enterprise is only a part of the main way within which Russian oil and gas companies develop. After all the last years more and more energy companies in our country make a turn in area of oil and gas chemistry. Besides, in the current year we observed a striking example of integration of petrochemical business — merge of SIBUR and TAIFA.
As Deputy Minister of Energy of the Russian Federation Pavel Sorokin noted, Russia plans to occupy 7‒8% of the world petrochemical market by 2030. And according to Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, in the coming 10‒15 years investments in Russian petrochemical complex will make about 2.6‒4.6 trillion rubles.

Amur gas processing plant and oil and gas chemistry

Disputes on prospects of demand for production of oil and gas chemistry are conducted. They concern directly the volumes demanded by the market at a boundary of the next 10‒20 years, production volumes in certain countries and possibility of regional segmentation.
The crisis of 2020 made amendments in the forecasts presented earlier. Besides it made multidirectional impact on different segments of oil and gas chemistry. For some production increased demand for individual means of protection became a new point of growth, the other considerably lost. For example, synthetic rubbers as they are used in production of tires suffered. For the first three quarters the European association of producers of tires (ETRMA) noted reduction of demand on 14.4%. And here in the first quarter of 2021 all segments showed positive dynamics in comparison with the first quarter of 2020.
So far it is not clear, how long will last new restrictions in the European countries and what impact they will make on petrochemical production. But it is possible to note in general: internal and foreign markets grow advancing rates (in comparison with the world economy). Even in 2020 this sector of industry quickly enough recovered from blow and started being restored promptly already in the second half of the year. According to the analyst of the Rupec Alexander Sobko, in the fourth quarter the price of some categories of petrochemical production (for example, on polyethylene and polypropylene) were above pre-crisis levels.
Russian enterprises have an advantage before many foreign colleagues in the form of local production resource. The methods of tax incentives are also discussed now. In general these methods conceptually differ in nothing from that is used for oil processing stimulation.
But what relation it everything has to the Amur gas processing plant? The most direct.

Mental gymnastics

Amur gas processing plant does not exist on its own account. It is a part of production chain which begins on Chayandinsky and Kovykta fields. In 2019 Power of Siberia gas pipeline was put into operation. Here it is necessary to remind that development of gas richness of Eastern Siberia and the Far East is not a new idea.
In the 2000th another subsoil user intended to master one of the fields which became basic for Power of Siberia. It was interested him a little that natural gas of the East of Russia is multicomponent («fat») and it is a lot of helium in it. This subsoil user intended to construct simply a pipe in the People’s Republic of China. We believe, buyers would be happy with such a project, after all then they would also receive more expensive gases at the methane price — ethane, propane, butane and above mentioned helium.
Gazprom has another approach. Of course, development of Chayandinsky and Kovykta fields was supposed to be connected with supply of natural gas to China. Russia has a small number of consumers in its eastern regions. They could not provide economically justified level of demand. At the same time demand could not be created without development of new fields. It is closed disk. An anchor project was required to break it. It would allow beginning economically reasonable (supported with due consumption level) development of gas richness of Eastern Siberia and the Far East. Power of Siberia also became such a project.
But construction of this gas pipeline could not be begun without having a contract with a buyer. It was required to sell gas and only then to extract it. And here in May, 2014 the contract was signed. It assumes delivery of 38 billion cubic meters of gas a year within 30 years (with a possibility of increase in deliveries to 60 billion cubic meters).
Standard critics started explaining why this contract is absolutely unprofitable. And it became especially difficult to prove suddenly why the historical contract for hundreds of billions dollars is a failure. After all it became clear that Gazprom showed special insidiousness in relation to unfortunate analysts and decided to construct the Amur gas processing plant in the city Svobodny (Amur region).
From natural gas at first of Chayandinsky field and from the fourth quarter of 2022, as well as from Kovykta field valuable components: ethane, propane, butane, pentane-hexane fraction and helium will be taken on gas processing plant. After commissioning of all capacities 42 billion cubic meters of raw materials will arrive on plant from which further to consumers 38 billion cubic meters of dry gas will go. And the extracted components will be sold separately: 60 million cubic meters of helium, more than 2 million tons of ethane, 1.5 million tons of propane and butane, 200 thousand tons of pentane-hexane fractions. Certainly these volumes will be made after the enterprise reaches design capacity.
So, Power of Siberia does not only allow mastering richness of eastern regions of our country but also becomes a basis for their further more intensive gasification. And besides, this project allows to develop hi-tech productions and to create highly paid workplaces.

The first of six    

The investor and the customer of construction of Amur gas processing plant is the Gazprom Pererabotka Blagoveshchensk Company. The enterprise was created in 2014 especially for implementation of the megaproject of new plant that once again confirms the thesis that the decision of Gazprom «to replace strategy a little bit» did not arise yesterday.
The plant will consist of six technological lines. Certainly it does not make any sense to bring them into operation at the same time as the volume of transportation of gas on Power of Siberia will increase within several years. Therefore in the summer of 2021 the first start-up complex is put into operation.
There are two technological lines on processing of natural gas at its structure (7 billion cubic meters of gas a year per line). In total there will be six of such lines. Besides, a unit of cleaning and liquefaction of helium is put into operation — the first of three. Its power is 20 million cubic meters of gas a year.
«Our purpose on the first start-up complex is to give out commodity gas with the content of nitrogen less than two percent in Power of Siberia main gas pipeline and to come to design loading with a productivity not less than 21 million cubic meters of commodity gas per day», — the CEO of JSC Gazprom Pererabotka Blagoveshchensk Yury Lebedev told.
Owing to a geographical position of the plant its construction strongly depended on the navigation period — only then it is possible to deliver the large-size equipment. Such equipment weighs more than hundred tons and is tens meters in length, for example, a column of release of methane (demethanizer) — 870 tons and 88 meters and a deethanizer — 110 tons and 40 meters.
To start-up of the first two production lines the third and fourth lines already are at high readiness.
Thanks to construction of the Amur gas processing plant the city Svobodny and Svobodnensky region received additional tax assignments: as a result the municipal infrastructure improves, opportunities in the field of education extend (for example, Gazprom class works in the city for children of inhabitants of Svobodny). Besides, in 2021 Svobodnensky thermal power plant started working (160 MW of rated capacity, three boilers with a steam generating capacity of 320 tons an hour), which will give electricity to the region and steam  to production installations of plant.
«Such projects as Amur gas processing plant form the main inflow of investments into the region thanks to which necessary social and economic and production infrastructure is created here and now. The region has already felt inflow of tax payments from construction of the enterprise and this sum grows. If on start of construction in 2014 about 4.8 million rubles, in 2020 — nearly 8.2 billion rubles came to the regional budget. For only seven years at the expense of Amur gas processing plant the budget of Amur region received over 17.5 billion rubles», — the Minister of Economic Development and External Relations of Amur region Lyudmila Starkova said.
When the enterprise reaches design capacity, more than 3 thousand people of the permanent operational staff will work at it.

The plant as anchor project

It is remarkable that Amur gas processing plant itself generates a number of high-tech projects which would be impossible without it. For example, the SIBUR Company together with China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) begins construction of Amur gas chemical complex. Its capacity will make to 2.7 million tons of ethylene a year. It will be one of the world’s largest productions of polypropylene (0.4 million tons) and polyethylene (2.3 million tons).
Also thanks to Amur gas processing plant Gazprom receives necessary capacities for creation of one of the largest productions and the logistic centers for realization of liquid helium. It is necessary already at the first stage of existence of plant for realization of those 20 million cubic meters which will be made by the first installation of cleaning and liquefaction of helium. For comparison: now in our country (on Orenburg gas processing plant) about 5 million cubic meters of helium are made that approximately corresponds to annual demand of Russian consumers. One helium installation of Amur gas processing plant will be enough to satisfy over 10% of the world demand.
The world demand for this gas is rather small — 160‒190 million cubic meters. Tiny volume against 4 trillion CBM of the world demand for methane. But helium is one of painful points of the world economy. It is used in many areas: medicine, electronics, metallurgy, space branch, etc. It is very difficult to replace it, and in some branches it is impossible at all.
In commercial volumes helium contains only in natural gas. According to Geological service of the USA (USGS), for the last 80 years production of «solar gas» in the world grew approximately in 1 thousand times. Ten years ago it was predicted that by 2030 the world demand will increase to 300 million cubic meters. But a number of crises, and also systematic work in the USA on helium replacement with nitrogen and hydrogen against deficiency of 2013 led to falling of growth rates of the world demand.
From the latest disturbing events which negatively affected the market of helium there was an opposition of Qatar (25% of the world production) and Saudi Arabia through which territory deliveries to consumers were carried out worldwide. Fortunately, Qatar could organize quickly delivery through own port capacities. Otherwise the world could have unprecedented earlier deficiency — about 40 million cubic meters of helium.
Last 2020 also affected the market of helium not in the best way. According to USGS, production was reduced in comparison with 2019 on 20 million cubic meters — to 140 million cubic meters. Besides falling happened generally in the USA, still the largest player in this market. If in 2019 68 million cubic meters of natural gas were made here, this indicator fell to 61 million cubic meters in 2020. Also extraction volumes from storage Kliffsayd (Texas) were reduced from 21 million cubic meters to 13 million cubic meters. Substantially Kliffsayd is now focused on downloading and extraction of the volumes delivered by the private companies.
Let’s notice that according to the Ministry of Energy of the Russian Federation production of helium in Russia for 2020 was reduced on 6.4% — to 4.4 million cubic meters. At the same time the American statistics recognizes that production of this gas in our country did not change, having remained at the level of 5 million cubic meters. It proves once again that even the most authoritative sources need to be rechecked.
Reduction last year was connected with COVID-19. About 10% of the world demand for helium is a share of balls. In 2020 people had no time for holidays. Business activity also decreased, sometime capacities from large consumers of helium stood idle. Generally it is about China — the most fast-growing market in the world, which in February of last year was compelled to put considerable part of industry «on a pause». But considering rates of recovery of the economy of the People’s Republic of China, it is possible to expect that the statistics of 2021 will not be worse than in 2019.

Helium creates LNG

There can be a question of a market niche which the helium made on Amur gas processing plant is going to enter. And after all it is mentioned separately even by USGS in the report on the market of helium: «A plant on processing of helium with a power of 60 million cubic meters a year which, as it is expected, will be completed by the end of 2024, is under construction in Russia «. If demand at best slowly grows, and in the worst is at all reduced, where to put these 60 million cubic meters?
The matter is that distribution of helium from storage Kliffsayd is reduced. One this fact opens a niche approximately for 15 million cubic meters. Also there are questions of possibility of the USA to keep former outputs from natural gas, considering low investment activity in this sphere.
It is interesting that Qatar perfectly realizes the prospects opening before it. Therefore Qatar Petroleum declared intention to construct the world’s largest plant on liquefied natural gas production (LNG) — about 33 million tons. The declared expenses in 29 billion dollars look too optimistically. But it is not the root of the matter. The main thing is that this enterprise will make both LNG and a number of other products including helium. Input of plant in operation is planned for the end of 2025.
In general the situation when the main suppliers are only three countries (the USA, Qatar and Algeria) looks unstable. That was already proved recently by Qatar-Saudi crisis. Therefore emergence of the fourth force in the person of our country will serve stability of the world market.
In addition, demand from China continues to grow, opening new opportunities for deliveries. But also creation of production of liquid helium in the Russian Far East allows to intensify development of own productions consuming helium. In this area the capacity of our country obviously is not limited 5 million cubic meters.
It is worth reminding that helium is that very good things that come in small packages. In 2019 and 2020 the price of these raw materials (depending on the country and category of the consumer) made from 3.1 thousand to 7.6 thousand dollars for 1 thousand CBM. Natural gas for this period managed to fall in price from 200 dollars to 40 dollars per 1 thousand CBM and then to rise in price to 300 dollars per 1 thousand CBM.
Gazprom created a logistic hub for helium delivery to consumers. As a place of its registration Territory of Advanced Development «Nadezhdinskaya» (Primorsky Krai) serves. The helium liquefied on Amur gas processing plant in special containers will go to the ports of Vladivostok which are located approximately in 1520 km from the plant. Filling, service and transport infrastructure is created for transportation.
The logistic hub assumes function of processing, preparation, sending and reception of helium containers. In its structure installation of division of air for receiving, in particular, liquid nitrogen and oxygen is provided.
The logistic center is intended for work both on external and on domestic market. Here the Russian consumers will be able to receive helium, nitrogen and oxygen in Dewar vessels. It will be one of the largest such objects in the world.
To the question of a role of Amur gas processing plant as anchor project. One of the most perspective types of motor fuel today is the liquefied natural gas. This fuel is the extremely eco-friendly and extremely economic. It was decided to be used for transportation of liquid helium. Also it would be possible to buy ready equipment in the same China. But Gazprom decided to order heavy trucks in the Russian producer — KamAZ, having provided demand for the newest development of this plant. At a meeting of Council for questions of gasification of territorial subjects of the Russian Federation at the Federation Council the Vice Chairman of the Board of PAO Gazprom Vitaly Markelov noted the following: «First 18 KamAZes have already came, there will be 58 of them. All of them will work at LNG, and we should provide refill at plant». Therefore Gazprom considers a possibility of construction of LNG plant based on Amur gas processing plant. It will not only provide refill of trucks but also will expand opportunities for gasification of the region.
Here is how it turns out: we began with two fields, a gas pipeline and gas processing plant, and they pulled for themselves a gas-chemical complex, the world’s largest production of helium, realization of liquid gases to the Russian consumers to the Far East federal district, production of the latest trucks on the most environmentally friendly motor fuel, expansion of opportunities for gasification of regions, repair of roads, improvement of the Far East cities and construction of new power plants. Large industrial projects are life and development. Does it sound pathetic? Against the background of start in operation of the largest in the country gas-processing plant, creating a growth point of the Russian economy in the Far East, this pathos is more than justified.
And at the end it is worth reminding that Amur gas processing plant is not the last such a project. Gazprom made a decision on construction of even more powerful gas processing enterprise near the settlement of Ust-Luga of Leningrad region. About 3.6 million tons of ethane fractions, 1.7 million tons of liquefied carbon gas and 13 million tons of LNG a year will be made here. The power of raw materials complex is 45 billion cubic meters of gas a year. Here is such a small and absolutely sudden change of strategy.