Roman Dashkov, Sakhalin Energy’s Chief Executive Officer, is talking about Sakhalin-2 project being managed while the company faces the present epidemic threat in his interview to Gas Industry Magazine.
Mr Dashkov, how can you explain the fact that Sakhalin has one of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in Russia, even though hundreds of rotators travel there to work for local oil and gas projects?
Well, Sakhalin being an island located far away from European Russia has played a role: it is easier to control passenger traffic here. With the disease spreading rapidly, the Oblast Government was fairly quick to respond by introducing a number of preventive measures.
Through good communication and engagement with the authorities, we made a number of timely decisions, suspending rotator crew changes and extending the current rotation period to three months. This gave us some time to assess the situation and come up with a comprehensive action plan. At that point in time, the overall coronavirus spread trends were ambiguous. In addition, the company has introduced epidemic control measures that are in effect during the cold and flu season.
The COVID-19 pandemic was only declared this year; however, by and large, methods used to control this disease are identical to those applied against any viral infection. Our coronavirus response has been largely proactive. As we analysed the new developments and guidelines issued by government authorities, we would quite often say to ourselves, “This has already been done”.
Did you have to make any changes to your management system?
To ensure effective company operations in the High Alert mode, Sakhalin Energy established a General Coordinating Committee (GCC) chaired by the Chief Executive Officer. The GCC works on a 24/7 schedule. It consists of three Task Forces that must ensure business continuity under the current circumstances. Task Force No. 1 deals with coronavirus spread prevention at company assets. There are people from our Health Sector, HR Directorate, Facilities Management and many other company units on this Task Force.
Task Force No. 2, which works to ensure reliable production, cargo loading and project delivery, is led by our Production Director. In addition to his direct reports, this Task Force comprises experts from Commercial, Technical and Finance Directorates. We realise quite clearly that, while facing the current epidemic and a soft market, we must still ensure safe production and reliable oil, gas and LNG deliveries, and continue executing the OPF Compression (OPF-C) Project in line with the shareholder-approved schedule. The Task Force assesses the cumulative impact of various negative factors and develops mitigations.
Task Force No. 3, led by our Finance Director, delivers a steady cash flow for the company and monitors and responds to the sanctions pressure.
The Sakhalin-2 project employs people from all over the globe, including many Russian regions. How do you currently deal with rotator crew changes?
Indeed, Sakhalin-2 is an international project. However, the share of Russian nationals in our total manpower is about 95%, with over 55% of them being Sakhalin residents. Among rotators, that percentage is even higher. We have definitely taken into account a lot of factors when planning our rotator crew changes.
Pursuant to Sakhalin Governor’s Executive Order, all arriving passengers must go into self-isolation for 14 days. The Oblast Government has established a number of observation facilities. At the same time, we realise that even such two-week-long isolation does not guarantee our assets would be completely protected from COVID-19; that is why the company decided to establish temporary accommodation facilities for Sakhalin-2 project personnel, partially reducing the load on public facilities.
We have taken some specific steps to manage rotator crew changes. A number of our assets have been designated as virus-free. Based on work and R&R schedule review, we have determined the optimal rotational shift duration of up to 70 days. We have also evaluated our manpower requirements by discipline based on our operational and maintenance plans. The company has also established a pool of Yuzhno-based experts on standby, ready to be mobilised at any time. We have identified key positions in various disciplines and found replacements from among Sakhalin residents and contractor personnel. Sakhalin Energy has been providing technical and other advice remotely to support the most challenging activities. And, of course, we have established COVID-19 testing on the arrival day, on day 11 at our TAFs and on day 10 after people commence their rotational shifts.
Our production assets are located far from each other. Our offshore platforms and the Onshore Processing Facility with an adjacent OPF-C construction site are located in Nogliki District, in the North of Sakhalin. The Prigorodnoye production complex, which includes the LNG plant, is located in the South. The company has split the incoming flow of rotators accordingly, with some arriving at Nogliki Airport via Khabarovsk and others arriving at Yuzhno Airport. Our TAF have been established there as well. When assigning specific TAFs to our rotators, we consider a rotator’s home region, as well the location of his or her respective destination asset.
It is hard to stay isolated for many days. What can be done to make life easier for your people?
First of all, there were no readily available solutions or facilities in place on Sakhalin Island to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus disease. First, we had to have the tools to enforce compliance with isolation requirements. We assessed the status of possible TAF locations, delineated roles and responsibilities between the company and its contractors and engaged with them to figure out what the optimal set of TAF amenities would be, including internet access and TV channels.
To make isolation easier to bear, the company has proposed that our people make the best use of this time. Since entertainment and active sports options are limited, people should develop their intellectual capabilities, train their brains. Those stationed at our TAFs have an opportunity to learn, test their knowledge and get certified remotely. In addition, our OIM have presented them with work plan packs so that rotators could go through them and get ready for the forthcoming work at remote assets.
How are medical support facilities functioning across the assets?
Of course, our doctors are now working under a greater load. At the same time, we need to differentiate the medics stationed at the TAFs from the doctors working at our production assets. The TAF medics must first and foremost run timely test sample collection and daily medical checks for self-isolated rotators. Our asset doctors, in addition to their regular duties, now have to continuously monitor the health status of asset personnel, run temperature measurements on a daily basis and, of course, administer mandatory day 10 COVID-19 tests.
Some companies extend the duration of rotational shifts to reduce the frequency of crew changes.
Under the circumstances, we had to adjust our plans. Some of our employees who had worked on the 5/2 schedule before the pandemic are now working 28-day rotations. For many, rotational shifts have extended to 70 days, with a 42-day R&R. I believe this is a logical step to minimise the risk of COVID-19 spread, prevent fatigue and keep family ties safe.
How long does the company intend to continue working like this?
As long as the situation dictates us to do so. The oil and gas sector advancement journey is a never-ending quest for continuous improvement, fraught with risk and uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to seek non-conventional solutions that resulted in more rational management of our safe operations. We might retain some of those solutions going forward.
Do you feel that everything is under control?
One should never feel complacent, even if one is absolutely certain all the possible measures have been taken. The reason we should remain somewhat concerned is because there are grey areas along each step of the way. When we encounter them, we might not have solutions that have been planned in advance. Still, we must be prepared, having the required resources in place, as well as mental resilience. Our comprehensive response to COVID-19 includes internal teamwork involving the GCC, Task Forces, asset and function managers and OIMs, as well as effective, real-time coordination of efforts with regional authorities, including Sakhalin branch of RPN, with support from federal government and our shareholders.
Full version of the interview (in Russian) in the Gas Industry Magazine (# 5, 2020).
10 June 2020