“Like living in a refrigerator!”
10 YEARS OF LNG PRODUCTION AT MELKØYA
At Melkøya in Hammerfest, natural gas from the Snøhvit gas field is chilled to -163°C to turn it into liquid form: LNG. Bioengineer Hennika Aalto Sivertsen has worked here from the very beginning. It’s a strange kind of workplace, though. “It's like living in a fridge!” she says.
Photos: Ole Jørgen Bratland / Helge Hansen
When gas needs to be transported over long distances, it is often converted into liquefied natural gas (LNG). When compressed and cooled below -160°C, the gas condenses to liquid and its volume decreases by a factor of 600. That makes it easier to ship with specially-built gas tankers.
Melkøya is Statoil’s LNG plant in Hammerfest, and opened in 2007. Its task is to process the gas arriving at the plant from the Snøhvit field in the Barents Sea through a 145-km long pipeline. The gas is processed before being exported in specially-built LNG ships to southern Europe, and occasionally even as far afield as Asia.
Bioengineer Hennika Aalto Sivertsen (42) was born and raised here in Hammerfest, and heads up the Snøhvit laboratory. Here, they analyse samples from production, including water, gas, glycol and oil. They also check the quality of the products being sold.
Now Snøhvit and Melkøya are celebrating their 10th anniversary—and Hennika is too. She has worked here from the very beginning. Although there were years of teething troubles, the plant is now running smoothly.
“I can recall situations when employees have had to cancel Christmas holidays and summer holidays to get the plant running again,” she says, emphasising the commitment of the team working at Melkøya.
The plant is specially designed for operation under arctic conditions, so that for instance, the naturally cold seawater outside the plant is used as a coolant in the process.
“It's like living in a refrigerator here,” she laughs.
In recent years, the plant has enjoyed world-class regularity and is the only LNG facility in the world to capture and store CO2 from the well stream. That helps makes Snøhvit one of the world’s most energy-efficient producers of LNG. Furthermore, technical modifications to the plant have increased its LNG production capacity well beyond its original design limits.
“The first few years were challenging, and we had a lot of teething troubles,” says Hennika. The facility was beset with problems and frequently had to shut down, she says. “Now that everything is running smoothly here at Snøhvit, it’s almost a little boring!” she chuckles.
The plant produces and exports approximately 70 shiploads of LNG every year, equivalent to approximately 70 TWh, making the plant a significant energy producer. Snøhvit’s main market is currently Southern Europe and the Atlantic Basin. The plant has generated income of over 100 billion NOK from LNG alone. In addition, condensate and LPG are produced at Melkøya.
“On three occasions, we have shipped cargoes to Asia via the Northeast Passage, and every LNG cargo shipment is worth about 150 million kroner,” says Hennika.
A good life in Hammerfest
319 people work at Snøhvit, of which 282 are residents of Hammerfest. In addition, about 200 contractors and subcontractors are associated with the facility, and the population of Hammerfest has increased by around 1500 people since the Snøhvit development was approved in 2002. The town now numbers about 10,500 inhabitants.
“When qualified as a bioengineer, I thought the only workplace for me in Hammerfest would be at the hospital,” recalls Hennika. “I wasn’t even aware that Melkøya had a laboratory,” she says, who returned home to Hammerfest when Snøhvit opened, after years of study in Oslo. She found a job at the lab.
“In 2009, we became Statoil’s first accredited laboratory. We analyse samples of gas from the turbines to report to the authorities. After a lot of hard work back then, we were very proud to achieve our accreditation,” she says. She now hopes that the plant will continue to operate reliably so that people have the time to continue to develop their skills instead of constantly focusing on keeping the plant running.
And she has other hopes too. She dreams of spending all summer in the south of Finland where the grass is green and apple trees grow.
“It’s not so green here in Hammerfest, and we have a view in all directions since we don’t have so many trees! Even though it’s hard, I’ve never regretted moving back to Hammerfest, and I also hope my children will settle down here when they grow up,” she says. “My family and I are still here today thanks to the oil and gas industry.”
Snøhvit points the way to the future
Snøhvit is a good example of the long-term perspectives that are common in the oil and gas industry. With the reserves already in place, the LNG plant at Melkøya will still be operating in 2055—but if new discoveries are made, its lifespan could be a lot longer.
Unni Fjær, who is the Production Director at the plant, is focused on the long term:
“In this time perspective, it’s essential that we have a long-term approach to recruiting staff in all professional categories—not only for our own, local needs, but to provide competent staff for new projects in the company,” she says.
About 150 candidates are admitted to Statoil’s apprenticeship programme each year, and serve their apprenticeships either offshore or at land-based facilities. This particular programme focuses on recruiting apprentices from Norway’s three northernmost counties.
Furthermore, in the next few years, Statoil will need to recruit many skilled workers and young engineers to make up the numbers as the “big generation change” approaches in a few years’ time.
“During this autumn, we will be hiring new operators here at Melkøya. This will offer excellent opportunities for local professionals who want to live and work in Hammerfest,” says Unni Fjær.