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Planning a Route and Installation for the Middle East-to-India Deepwater Pipeline
After Years of Feasibility Studies and Technological Advances, Pipelines at Depths up to 3,500 Meters Are Nearly in Reach

By Ian Nash
Business Acquisition and Operations Director for Europe, Africa and the Middle East
Peritus International Ltd.
Woking, England

Peter M. Roberts
Technical Director
South Asia Gas Enterprise Pvt. Ltd.
New Delhi, India

Pipeline route from the Middle East compression station (MECS) to the Gujarat pipeline receiving terminal (GPRT) in India via an offshore gas compression system (OGCS) on the Qalhat Seamount.

South Asia Gas Enterprise Pvt. Ltd. (SAGE), a joint venture led by the Siddho Mal Group (New Delhi, India), has plans to build the Middle East-to-India Deepwater Pipeline (MEIDP), a deepwater, transnational, natural gas pipeline system that will cross the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. The MEIDP is anticipated to be the first of many in a corridor of pipelines that will form the final leg of a major energy supply route linking the two regions.

Imported gas will play a major role in bridging the demand-supply gap in the Indian market. Countries that have a traditional trading relationship with India, including Oman, Qatar, Iran and Turkmenistan, have more than 2,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves. India already imports about 1.1 billion cubic feet of gas per day on liquified natural gas tankers to meet its current shortfall. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, this shortfall is expected to rise dramatically by 2020 and continue rising through 2030, when it will peak at 3.56 billion cubic feet per day.

This need for imported gas is recognized by earlier proposals to build gas pipelines on overland routes. The Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, despite years of discussion, has not been implemented. The Turkmenistan-to-India pipeline proposal continues to move forward slowly; an intergovernmental agreement on the pipeline was finally signed in December 2010 after 15 years of discussion. Security during construction and subsequent operation, however, will probably continue to cast a shadow across these overland routes. By comparison, supplying gas from the Middle East to India via a deepwater route is far less exposed to risk of interruption.

The possibility of having an alternative supply of natural gas for the Indian market via a secure deepwater route will add competition and remove the potential risks of a single overland supply route. The deepwater route also provides the easiest option for expansion into a corridor of supply pipelines in the future.

The deepwater route across the Arabian Sea is the shortest secure distance between Middle Eastern reserves and the rapidly developing industrial heartland in the Indian state of Gujarat. This route is too short for liquified natural gas tankers to be an economic transportation option.

Peritus International is performing and supervising conceptual studies to take the project into front-end engineering and design in early 2012. The project is scheduled to achieve first gas in the fourth quarter of 2017.

The direct Middle East-to-India Pipeline route profile, which does not include an offshore gas compression station.

Proposed Pipeline Parameters and Routes
SAGE's MEIDP project builds on an early 1990s study of the deepwater Oman-to-India pipeline. The feasibility of constructing the pipeline improved after SAGE's recent development work and a decade of industry advancements in deepwater design, manufacturing and pipelay. The MEIDP is to be developed by a consortium of design and construction contractors.

The MEIDP has an inner diameter of 610 millimeters, a size that will allow the delivery of up to 1.1 billion standard cubic feet per day of sales-quality natural gas to India. The base case originates at the Middle East compression station near Ra's Al Jifan, Oman, and terminates at the Gujarat Pipeline Receiving Terminal (GPRT) near Porbandar, India. Crossing the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, the pipeline will reach water depths of about 3,450 meters and will be approximately 1,300 kilometers in length.

The route crosses the gently sloping Oman Shelf and then descends across the relatively steep and fractured Oman Slope to the Oman Abyssal Plain. The Oman Slope is characterized by a stepping topography caused by faulting as well as incisions from deep erosive submarine canyons and channels with steep walls. The Oman Abyssal Plain is generally flat, smooth and featureless.

About 300 kilometers along the route is the Qalhat Seamount. This dramatic feature rises almost 3,000 meters from the seafloor to come within 300 to 400 meters of the surface, where SAGE is considering whether to build an offshore gas compression station (OGCS). The pipeline transportation distance between the Middle East and India is such that intermediate gas compression between the source and the arrival point may be required or may provide a useful means of reducing pipe sizes and hence costs, as well as improving installability.

The Qalhat Seamount is located at the intersection of Murray Ridge and the Owen fracture zone, which delineates the boundary between two tectonic plates that have relative horizontal movement and are prone to earthquakes, fault movements and landslides.

After crossing the Oman Abyssal Plain, the natural gas pipeline route would ascend to the top of the Qalhat Seamount from the north if the option to build an OGCS is selected. The route descends the Qalhat Seamount to the seafloor following broadly the same route as the ascent.

If an OGCS will not be built on the Qalhat Seamount, the route will instead turn and pass through a corridor between the Qalhat Seamount and a smaller seamount to the northeast. From there, it will cross the tectonic plate boundary to enter the Arabian Abyssal Plain. The route through the Arabian Abyssal Plain is generally flat, smooth and featureless except where it encounters the meandering channels and levees of the Indus Fan. Finally, the route will climb the relatively steep Indian continental slope and cross the Indian shelf to the receiving terminal.

Advances in Deepwater Technologies
The Oman-to-India pipeline was first considered in the mid-90s. At the same time, this project faced a number of technical challenges, such as the lack of vessels with enough tension capability to lay pipes in 3,500 meters' depth and a qualified deepwater pipeline repair system, in addition to significant hydrotesting and drying concerns. Pipe mill upgrades would be required to manufacture the line pipe of the required size and quality. The project also faced incomplete understanding of seismic activities and inadequate mitigation methods for mudflows, fault lines and slope failures. The project's backers concluded these challenges were not insurmountable, but the project never came out planning.

The offshore oil and gas industry has advanced significantly since 1995. Numerous large-diameter gas transmission pipelines, such as the Russia-to-Turkey Blue Stream pipeline across the Black Sea and the Algeria-to-Spain Medgaz pipeline crossing the Mediterranean Sea, have been installed in depths up to 2,200 meters. Other projects such as the proposed GALSI pipeline, running from Algeria to northern Italy, are planned in depths of about 2,800 meters. To continue this article please click here.

Ian Nash, who works on the Middle East-to-India Pipeline for Peritus International Ltd. As operations director and senior project manager, has more than 25 years of experience in the offshore industry. He has worked for various companies on multiple pipeline projects including Scotland-Northern Ireland Pipeline, the Norway-to-Germany Europipe 2 and the Medgaz pipeline.

Peter Roberts, technical director for South Asia Gas Enterprise Pvt. Ltd., has more than 40 years of experience in the offshore industry. He is the founder and managing director of U.K. deepwater technology company VerdErg Renewable Energy Ltd. and was a director of the original Oman-India Pipeline in the mid-90s.

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