COVID-19 – even more problems for Novatek | Polarjournal
Sabetta International Airport was temporarily closed after several COVID-19 cases. (Photo: Olesya Astakhova)

Regional health authorities have closed the airport in Sabetta, a major hub in the Russian Arctic and the main lifeline of natural gas company Novatek for its Yamal LNG project, as infections in northern Russia increase.

Workers from Novatek in Sabatta. At the moment no one is leaving from Sabatta and it is uncertain what will happen in the next few weeks. (Photo: Atle Staalesen)

Commuters in Russia’s remote oil and gas fields appear to have infected the outposts in the region. With the closure of the airport in Sabetta on the Yamal peninsula, more than 140 people have now been registered as carriers of the coronavirus in the remote industrial city. According to TASS, a total of 22 people were taken to hospitals in the regional capital Salekhard and the oil town of Novy Urengoy. The remaining 121 workers were isolated in Sabetta, the news agency reported.

The screenshot from Flight Radar 24 shows the Ilyuschin-76 of Emercom on the way to Sabetta on April 25. (Photo: Flightradar 24)

Flight radar data records show that a plane from the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations was on its way to Sabetta. The plane, an Ilyushin-76 transport plane, is similar to the flights that took a mobile hospital to the Novatek plant in Belokamenka, outside Murmansk, on April 12. In Belokamenka, around 900 workers are now registered as infected.

Novatek complains

The Russian newspaper Kommersant reports that the regional health authorities in the Yamal-Nenzen region have decided to close the airport. Novatek protested strongly on this decision. Subsidiary Yamal LNG argued that regional health authorities were not entitled to close an airport and appealed to the “competent authorities,” RBC reports.

The situation poses a serious challenge to Novatek, which operates “LNG Yamal” and is driving developments on the “LNG 2” of the Arctic on the nearby Gydan peninsula. In Sabetta, more than 30,000 people are employed by the company. It is believed that several thousand are involved in the construction in Gydan.

The virus outbreak at Novatek’s main project sites could hamper progress on the company’s key Arctic plans. The new plant in Belokamenka is to build LNG production platforms for the Arctic LNG 2 project. Production is scheduled to start in 2023 and many millions of tonnes of liquefied natural gas to be delivered to consumers in Europe and Asia by 2024.

Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG 2 are projects of central importance to Russia’s goal of transporting more than 80 million tonnes on the Northeast Passage by 2024.

The Novaket plant of Yamal-LNG. No one knows what the near future will look like at the moment. (Photo: Novatek)

Many companies affected

Novatek is not the only company severely affected by coronavirus. According to the governor of Yamal-Nenzen, Dmitry Artyukhov, two other industrial sites in the natural gas-rich region are affected by virus outbreaks. Arktyukhov stated in a social media post on April 27 that the regional spread of the virus is still very limited. “We have about 60 oil fields in operation and more than 100,000 workers and the recorded cases only affect three fields,” he said.

Speculation of similar virus outbreaks in several other major natural gas fields, including Gazprom’s Bovanenkovo field, has been swirling for weeks. In late March, the company isolated a group of workers on suspicion of infection, but those individuals were later declared healthy, the subsidiary Gazprom Nadym Dobycha announced.

Like other companies, Gazprom has introduced special procedures related to the commuter shifts in projects in the far north. Workers must now spend at least 14 days in isolation before they are allowed to work at sites.

On 28 April, it was announced that five patients from Lukoil’s Varandey field in the autonomous Nkreten-Okrug had been admitted to the hospital in Naryan-Mar, the capital of the region, for intensive care. A further 23 people are being treated in the Varandey area, the regional authorities say.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal
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