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"Green" transport: Why Arctic fleet should prefer gas fuel to diesel

October 08, 2017, 13:05 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Experts explained how much time it takes to create an arctic "green" fleet and what role the state plays in this

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The Arctic tanker Christophe de Margerie

The Arctic tanker Christophe de Margerie

© Mikhail Metzel/TASS

MOSCOW, October 8. /TASS/. The diesel-fueled vessels, which work in the northern seas and ruin the Arctic's fragile ecology system, should switch to using ecology-friendly gas fuel. Experts told TASS, by doing so the water pollution in development of the Northern Sea Route may reduce. However, specialists say, this change is realistic in some remote future due to the missing infrastructures and vessels on gas fuel.

The Ministry of Natural Resources is working on a project to have vessels, working in the Arctic, use gas instead of diesel in order to avoid the water pollution there. Minister Sergei Donskoi called this project a priority task in development of the water transport, however without quoting any time limits. TASS writes about how much time it may take Russia to have "green" fleet in the Arctic and about the role the state may be playing in this project.

How transport affects environment

Experts say as yet there is no threat of a total transport pollution of the northern seas, but the situation may aggravate with development of navigation along the Northern Sea Route.

"The problem of pollution is important, but as yet it is at the initial stage. The role of sea transport in the pollution may be essential at areas of active navigation and fishing, like, for example, in the Barents Sea. However, with development of the Northern Sea Route the problem would be vital, as splits of fuel or oil would be possible in emergencies," press service of the Tomsk Polytechnic University told TASS referring to specialists of the international scientific-educational laboratory for carbon studies of the Arctic seas. The scientists survey the modern state of the northern waters so that to forecast future pollution from the transport.

The Northern Sea Route’s Administration over nine months of the current year issued more than 600 navigation certificates to vessels, and a year earlier - about 700. The authority told TASS they do not ask ship owners what fuel the vessels are using, and nobody is filing any statistics about their influence on the environment.

Director of the Russian Arctic National Park Alexander Kirilov urged studies into transport’s influence on the seas’ ecology systems. "North of Novaya Zemlya and Russia’s northernmost archipelago - Franz-Josef Land - nobody has ever studied emissions from vessels, but this must be done," he said.

Long route with one filling station

Representatives of the shipping business say gas is more ecology-friendly and it is cheaper than diesel or black oil, but even if vessels are modernized promptly, the only place, where they can fill along almost 6,500 km of the Northern Sea Route is the Sabetta port on the Kara Sea in Yamal. The company, involved in organization of infrastructures for vessels’ LNG bunkers, is Gazprom Marine Bunker, but the pilot project is now only for ports of the North-West Region.

"If we look at the history of fleet, at first vessels used the energy of wind, then the energy of coal, then everyone began using diesel fuel, and changing from one fuel to another took from 30 to 50 years. Clearly, gas fields are more accessible, and there are even projects, which work both on gas and on heavy fuel - those, first of all, are gas tankers. But the key obstacle is the infrastructures," Head of the Fleet Department of the Far East Shipping Company (FESCO) Vladimir Chabrov told TASS.

According to him, use of gas is more ecology-friendly and is cheaper, but in the Far East not a single port can offer gas filling, while in the northern seas the only port with this infrastructure is the Sabetta port.

In spring 2017, the first in the world gas tanker of the ice class Christophe de Margerie arrived in Sabetta. It is one of the first 15 gas tankers for the Yamal LNG project. "The technology of LNG filling is the first stone in the base of the vessels modernization, including for the Arctic, as thus we shall have the minimal burden on the environment," Governor of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District Dmitry Kobylkin told TASS. "This is true future for the global fleet."

Time and money

The market players say the gas-filling infrastructure would appear in about 20 years. FESCO’s top manager says there have been no orders as yet for vessels using gas, and the gradual change from the heavy fuel to gas would be realistic in the course of 20-25 years. "By that time, infrastructures would be ready, and any vessel would be able to feel the bunker with gas, not diesel, at any port," he said.

For ship owners changing fuels systems on all the vessels, working in the Arctic, is not profitable now. "Clearly, there is no sense in updating the system of a 25-year-old vessel to gas, gas turbine," he said. "It is very costly and unreasonable. But further on, there would be new laws on vessels’ ecology classes, and new vessels would be built."

Shipping companies should be concerned about modernization of the fleet, and the government should be responsible for the infrastructures, Director General of the Murmansk Shipping Company (MSCO) Alexander Medvedev said. "Liquefied natural gas may become a true alternative to liquid fuel. Within two years, it would be necessary to install special gas-fuel equipment, which depending on the vessel size costs between five and ten million dollars. And the government should support organization of the infrastructures. A mighty stimulus for organization of this fleet would be development of the LNG bunker stations at Russian ports," he said.

Organization of the "green" fleet would require state support and support for the LNG producers. Thus, it would be possible to begin using as soon as possible ecology-friendly fuel, he added.

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