Cargo Transportation Route, Kazakhstan

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The Tengiz oilfield lies in a remote region of north-western Kazakhstan on the shores of the Caspian Sea. It is run by Tengizchevroil LLP (TCO), which wishes to increase the field’s capacity. New facilities must therefore be built. Prefabricated modules weighing up to approximately 2,000 tonnes each are to be transported to the region from all over the world. Witteveen+Bos has been commissioned to design the Cargo Transportation Route (CaTRo) which allows the modules to pass through the relatively shallow Caspian Sea on their way to the oilfield. This is a large and complex project with many challenges. 

'We can ensure that people are aware of the consquences of their decisions'

At present, the region has limited infrastructure and facilities. The CaTRo project will change all that. The vessels carrying the modules have a draft of up to 3.5 metres. To allow them to make land as close to the Tengiz oilfield as possible, a 71-kilometre-long navigation channel is to be constructed. The channel will be 62 metres in width and bordered by 32 large artificial islands. A new port covering an area of some 15 hectares is to be built on the north-eastern coast of the Caspian Sea. It will have all the dockside facilities needed to unload the heavy modules safely. The final part of the journey is made overland, for which new roads with a total length of 32 kilometres are to be built. For part of the route, the roads will pass along a new embankment of over 14 kilometres in length. A large terminal complex with water production and treatment facilities will also be built, as well as accommodation for over 500 workers. Egbert Teunissen, project leader for Witteveen+Bos, is proud of the project team’s achievements to date. ‘There is so much to be done,’ he says. ‘This is an enormous project which involves rigid planning, complex organisation and numerous permit application procedures. We have to remain flexible because there are frequent modifications to the plans.’ 

Over two hundred Witteveen+Bos professionals are working on this mammoth task, both in the Netherlands and in Kazakhstan. Egbert spends four weeks at a time on site and four weeks in the Netherlands, alternating with his colleague Johan Lijftogt. The two men have a very close working relationship. ‘When you’re involved in such a demanding and challenging project, you really need a good partner,’ says Egbert. ‘Johan and I have agreed that we can call each other at any time, day or night. Sometimes you need a second opinion or perhaps you just want to talk things over.’ The challenge is not only to complete theproject on time and within budget, but also to ensure that the result is as sustainable as possible. Dirk de Kramer, one of the Witteveen+Bos experts working on the project, cites several design aspects intended to maximise sustainability. ‘We decided to modify the shape and dimensions of the 32 artificial islands to facilitate fish migration, for example. We have also proposed solutions which will support ‘zero discharge policies’, and all material choices take account of the transport distances.’ Making responsible choices on a project of this size will have an immediate impact, but Dirk sounds a note of caution. ‘You can’t really say that a project is either sustainable or it is not. That is a blackand-white approach yet there are many shades of grey in between. The context is important. As engineers, we are not always in a position to decide exactly how the project will take shape. We can, however, ensure that people are aware of the consequences of their decisions. We can suggest alternatives, and we can give clear, valuable advice.’ The size and complexity of the project and the various challenges involved demand close cooperation and excellent communication. Alongside the huge Witteveen+Bos presence, the project involves fifteen subcontractors from no fewer than six different countries, and all are working for two principal clients. Teamwork is an essential success factor, Egbert Teunissen stresses. ‘We must work hard and sometimes we must also apply a tough, no-nonsense approach. Nevertheless, it is important to help and support each other as much as possible. I find it inspiring to see how team members are developing in terms of professional skills and ability. Working on a large and complex project such as CaTRo supports personal development as well.’