Russia Is Building $320 Million Icebreakers to Carve New Arctic Routes

"The 1,000-foot-long vessels for hauling liquefied natural gas can cut through ice up to 7 feet thick."

"Until factories open on the moon or Mars, there’s no less hospitable an industrial workplace than Yamal LNG, a $27 billion liquid natural gas plant that lies in Russian territory 375 miles north of the Arctic Circle. In the winter, when there’s zero sun for more than two months, temperatures reach -13F on land and -58F in the blinding fog out at sea. But there’s a lot of fossil fuel in this wasteland—44 trillion cubic feet, the equivalent of about 8 billion barrels of oil. So Yamal LNG, controlled by Russian natural gas producer Novatek, has brought together partners to spend an unprecedented sum on a new kind of transportation that will be here much faster than self-driving cars or a casual afternoon spaceflight.

Conventional tankers still can’t handle the ice in the Arctic’s Kara Sea—even though it’s slowly but surely melting because of global warming. It would be extremely costly and time-consuming to provide smaller icebreaking ships as escorts for the tankers. That’s why an international collaboration of ship designers, engineers, builders, and owners is creating a minimum of fifteen 1,000-foot-long, $320 million tankers to break the ice themselves. “The vessel has to be able to perform her tasks in extremely harsh conditions,” says Mika Hovilainen, an icebreaker specialist at Aker Arctic Technology Inc., the Helsinki company that designed the ships. “Systems have to work properly in a very wide range of temperatures.”

The tankers are the widest gas carriers ever built, at about 164 feet. Fully loaded, each carries the same volume as about 1 million barrels of oil. Together, the 15 will be able to carry 16.5 million tons of liquefied natural gas a year—enough to supply half of South Korea’s annual consumption, and close to the eventual output of Yamal LNG. They’ll travel west to Europe in the winter and east to Asia in the summer, moving through ice that’s up to 7 feet thick."

Eric Roston reports for Bloomberg July 9, 2018.

Source: Bloomberg, 07/11/2018