Yamal LNG, the XXIst century cathedral
Since I joined the Group in 1990, I spent less than two years at the head office ... Recruited initially as a supervisor of work, I developed a know-how - engineering, purchasing, construction, commissioning, startup - which allowed me to work on pioneering projects: Girassol, Yemen LNG, Yamal LNG ... For almost thirty years, expatriation with my wife and my children (the Netherlands, Angola, Gabon, United Arab Emirates ...) and in rotation 4/4 (Yemen, Russia ...). I have successively held the positions of project manager, construction and engineering project manager, area manager, assistant director of construction ... It is this last position that I wish to evoke, the most important of my career on the human and technical level. Five years in extreme conditions in Russia!
"A giant lego beyond the Arctic Circle"
I arrived on Yamal LNG in September 2014. The project had just started and the site was practically empty of all constructions. The challenge was very motivating: to build the first liquefied natural gas production unit in the Arctic. A technological challenge for all involved partners: Novatek (50.1%), CNPC (20%), Silk Road Fund (9.9%) and Total (20%). I had never set foot in Russia and I did not speak a word of Russian. I lived my first winter at -50 ° C in Sabetta, on the "camp-city" Yamal LNG 2,500 km from Moscow. For the first time, I measured the fragility of man. At this temperature, a false step in the snow can be fatal, the movements are slowed down by the multiple layers of clothing that are superimposed to resist the cold ... Yamal LNG, it was also an "ephemeral city" inhabited by 33,000 collaborators from around the world (Australian, Turkish, French, Russian, Nigerian, Scottish ...), a port, an airport, public transport, restaurants, medical services, waste management ... As for the factory, it reminded me of the legos of my childhood, more than 140 modules to assemble, ten-story buildings built in China ... When Patrick Pouyanné came to the site, he spoke of "XXIst century cathedral". The expression summed up well the gigantism of the project!
"The gas that comes from the cold weather"
In project management, the constraints are always the same: costs, planning, safety, purchasing, engineering ... while taking into account the safety of people and facilities. The unknown is men. And it is necessary that the project progresses in the best conditions whatever the equation: nationalities, training, culture safety, regulation, management of human resources ... The collective premium, as in a rugby team. The first few months were complicated, we had to learn how to work with a translator, evaluate the differences of interpretation to avoid misunderstandings. A concrete example: I quickly understood that a document called "has built" did not mean the same thing for the French and the Russians. For the first, it is provided at the end of the project; for the latter, it is established as and when built and used for the payment of the subcontractor ... It was also necessary to adjust to certain practices, including hygiene, safety and environment. The French approach is based on trainings, sensitization, valorization of results by pedagogy ... The Russians have much more recourse to the repression, the fines ... The whole difficulty consisted in making cohabit the two schools, while preserving the interests of the company. At first, I was the only French member of the construction team, representing Total. Step by step, I was able to gain the trust of the Russians and bring my expertise, from the delivery of the modules to the startup of the installations. From there, the doors opened, the Russians could appreciate our added value in the management of a large project, the coordination of the tests and the HSE component, in particular for the SIMOPS which are the construction activities carried out simultaneously with production. From our side we learned a lot about the management of men and equipment in extreme conditions in a wild, landlocked and frozen region 7 to 9 months per year. To guarantee its stability in permafrost (a deep frozen ground that only thaws on the surface in the summer months), the plant was built on tens of thousands of piles of varying diameter and depth. Russia is a school of humility, no question of arriving as aconqueror, each one must take a step towards the other ...
A very beautiful professional step!
Yamal LNG is one of the largest and most complex LNG projects in the world. More than 200 wells were drilled and three liquefaction trains with a capacity of 5.5 million tonnes were built. Today, the plant is operational, 16.5 million tons of LNG pass each year through the port of Sabetta. A production sold to European and Asian customers via contracts of 15 to 20 years.