10th International Conference on Permafrost

On 24-29. 06.2012 10th International Conference on Permafrost – TICOP, http://ticop2012.org/, was held in Russia, Salekhard.

Sergeev D.O., Chief of Laboratory of Geocryology IEG RAS, was elected as a member of  the Executive Committee of International Permafrost Association (IPA) from Russian Federation.

The X International Conference on Permafrost was held June 24-29 2012 for the first time in Russia since 1973. The International Permafrost Association (IPA), Institute of the Earth Cryosphere of SB RAS, government of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District (YNAD), and Tyumen State Oil and Gas University (TSOGU) organized the conference that was held in Salekhard. Such international conferences on permafrost are held every 4 years. The Oil Transporting Joint Stock Company "Transneft" (OTJSC "Transneft") was a major sponsor of the event. The conference theme "Resources and Risks of Permafrost Areas in a Changing World" facilitated discussion of issues related to problems of design, construction and operation of pipelines in areas underlain by permafrost. More than 500 professionals including 11 members of the Russian Academy of Sciences took part in the conference. The most delegations came from USA, Canada, and Germany. A priority of this conference was to facilitate collaboration and exchange between scientists and engineers of all generations from 25 countries. The opening ceremony featured remarks by: Dmitry Kobylkin (Governor of YNAD), Anton Vasiliev (ambassador-at-large MFA of Russia, involved in the coordinating council Fund of Arctic projects), Hans Hubberten (President of IPA), Vladimir Novoselov (Rector of TSOGU), and Philip Nobel (the head of the dynasty and the head of the Nobel Foundation).

The conference program was divided into 6 topics with 15 concurrent sessions. The most attended section was devoted to permafrost engineering challenges, pipeline construction and operation on permafrost, and geotechnical monitoring in Russia, Canada, China, and Alaska. These topics were discussed in the following reports:

  • Identification, Diagnostics, and Ranking of Geocryological Hazards for Long-Distance Pipelines and Other Linear Structures (D.O. Sergeev, IEG RAS);
  • Engineering Protection of Pipelines from Hazardous Engineering-Geological Processes in Northern Regions (A.E. Skapintsev, OJSC Fundamentproekt);
  • Principles of Mapping of Bases of Oil and Gas Complex Facilities in Difficult Geocryological Conditions (A.V. Ryazanov, OJSC Fundamentproekt);
  • Geocryological Processes and Phenomena at the Engineering Facilities of the Zapolyarnoe Oil and Gas Condensate Field (O.G. Kistanov, LLC Gazprom Dobycha Yamburg);
  • Geotechnical Problems of the Buried Oil Pipeline Operation in the Cryolithozone of the North of Western Siberia (D.R. Mullanurov, ECI SB RAS);
  • The Consequences of the Non-Presence of Pre-Construction and Construction Stages in the Geotechnical Monitoring System at the Gas Field Facilities of the North (N.V. Lashina, Faculty of Geology, Department of Geocryology, MSU);
  • Thermal Interaction of the Underground Gas Pipeline with Permafrost on the Bovanenkovo - Ukhta Pipeline Section (A.V. Kryukov, Gazprom Transgaz Ukhta).

During the plenary session, Lukas Arenson from Canada (BGC Engineering Inc., Vancouver. Permafrost Engineering Guidelines: An Overview) gave an update on guidelines and regulations for engineering work in the permafrost region during past 50 years.

The first set of documents was published in the 1960’s then in the 1980’s and now during the last 10 years. This trend is a clear indicator of the cyclic activities in the North, mainly driven by the resource industry around the world. The available documents are prepared with the aim of carrying out better and standardized designs in permafrost environments. As demonstrated herein, a good number of documents exist today. However, there are discrepancies between some recommendations, which may make it challenging for multinational clients (e.g., mining and energy sectors) and engineering firms to prepare designs in a globalized world. It is therefore believed that it would be beneficial if the IPA would initiate general guidelines on permafrost engineering.

A number of reports warned of the need to take preventive measures as climate change affects current oil and gas activities (construction and operation of pipelines) in the permafrost region. Pipeline damage and accidents occur due to thawing or new formation of permafrost. In order to develop natural resources and build transportation infrastructure in the permafrost region, strict regulations are necessary to limit damage to structures and compensate for increased costs of production. As air temperature increases in some regions, it is reasonable to assume that disturbance and damage to economic activities and infrastructure will only get more costly.

At one of the sessions Raymond A. Kreig, who has worked on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) more than 30 years, tried to answer the question about the cost of infrastructure maintenance in Alaska in the future.

The projected cost of Alaska’s public infrastructure at risk from rapid climate change could add $3.6–$6.1 billion (+10% to +20% above normal maintenance and replacement) to future costs for public infrastructure from now to 2030 and $5.6–$7.6 billion (+10% to +12%) from now to 2080. These costs result from annualized replacement costs for nearly 16,000 structures. They include effects of not only permafrost thawing, but also increased flooding and coastal erosion.

The estimate of cost for TAPS was calculated privately.

Nevertheless it’s quite difficult to identify specific risks for oil pipelines in the frozen ground, how to assess these risks, and project what will happen to pipelines in 5, 10, and 15 years. In coming years, the impact of the pipeline on permafrost (and vice versa) will be studied in collaboration between oil-gas companies and academic science.

Problems of oil and gas exploration in the Arctic and the risks associated with man-made impacts on permafrost are of great interest. Currently, 42 oil and gas deposits are open on the Arctic shelf in the Canadian sector, 22 offshore of Alaska, 23 offshore of Russia, and 35 offshore of Norway. Since 2003 Russia has been exploring oil and gas deposits in the Arctic. Current oil/gas extraction is accomplished primarily by directional drilling from shore. Next generation pipelines are planned for safe transportation of petroleum products to the "mainland" from the permafrost region for all newly discovered oil/gas fields. Permafrost transportation issues currently affect west and the east Siberian projects of OTJSC "Transneft". In particular, the operation of the pipeline in Eastern Siberia to the Pacific Ocean, which is more than 5000 km in length and the pipeline from the Arctic to Purpe to Samotlor.

There was unprecedented participation by young researchers at the conference. More than 150 students, graduates, and young professionals received grants from the government of YNAD allowing them to take part in this international forum on permafrost. The Permafrost Young Researcher Network (PYRN, http://pyrn.arcticportal.org/index.php/ru/pyrnmeetingsactivities/salehkard-2012) supervised youth activities at the conference (grants, workshop, field school, co-chairing in the sessions, awards) on a voluntary basis. A one-day workshop for young professionals was held the day prior to the conference. Top permafrost researchers discussed current permafrost issues with youth. Together with discussion of issues on Arctic coastal thermoerosion, emission of methane from thawing permafrost, and permafrost monitoring James Rooney, ex-president of R&M Consultants in Alaska, shared lessons from 60 years of pipeline and road operation in Alaska on long-term engineering performance and risks in permafrost. PYRN, supported by IPA, held a competition for the best presentations of young researchers in 6 categories. Ten senior geocryologists evaluated 150 performances of young applicants during the conference. Governor Dmitry Kobylkin, on behalf of Yamal and IPA, awarded diplomas and prizes to young professionals for the best scientific and technical reports. The best Russian oral report, "Method of Choosing the Optimal Location for the Oil Pipeline Route Using Engineering-Geocryological Cost Maps,” was awarded to Maria Cherbunina, PhD student of Faculty of Geology, MSU, Russia (supervisor – Professor L.N.Khrustalev).

After the conference the permafrost summer field school “Salekhard University Courses on Permafrost” was organized by the IPA and PYRN in Polar Ural Mountains. V.I. Grebenez, Associate Professor of cryolithology and glaciology at Moscow State University headed the field course. For 10 days, 37 PYRs from Russia, China, USA, Austria, France and Germany visited the Romantikov Glacier, the hyperbasite massif Ray-Iz, the chromite minefield "Tsentralnoye", the geological museum in the core warehouse of Labytnangi settlement, and climbed the Chernaya Mountain with a panoramic view of the biggest outcrop of mantle rocks on the European-Siberian fault.

This conference in the capital of Yamal confirmed that the study of permafrost is of global importance to the international community and is crucial for the further transportation infrastructure and the development of oil and gas in circumpolar regions. Design, construction, and monitoring of oil and gas industry problems were main topics at the conference, along with the pressing issues of global climate and permafrost change. The take-home message of the conference was the need to develop modern engineering and technology solutions for the polar regions and to prepare specialists for geocryological projects. The main goal of the permafrost forum was the creation of the International Yamal Innovative Center for the study of the Arctic, which is dedicated to improving research capacity in Russia and the development of international rules for resource development in the Arctic.
The next International Conference on Permafrost (XI) will be held in 4 years at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (Potsdam, Germany) in 2016.  A regional European meeting of geocryologists will be in Evora Portugal in June 2014.


Text by Julia Stanilovskaya