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Grigory Pasko: Traveling the Nord Stream, Part III

The Construction Project of the Century: Kilometer Zero: Gryazovets By Grigory Pasko, journalist The map you see below was published in a booklet dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the Gryazovets line-and-production administration of trunk gas pipelines. You can clearly see on it that Gryazovets compressor station KC-17 is situated at a junction: the place where the principal gas pipeline from the fields of Novy Urengoy branches off to the northwest. It is therefore understandable why the designers of the NEGP selected Gryazovets in particular in the capacity of the start of construction of a new branch – but this time not just to the West, but to the Baltic Sea and beyond – to Germany.

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Gas pipeline route map from advertising brochure

KC-17 – this is four functioning gas pumping shops and a fifth in the stage of construction. The enterprise services 16 gas distribution stations (a 17th is being built) and 1300 kilometers of trunk gas pipelines. More than 600 persons work here. With time, as they say, yet another compressor shop will be put in – to service the North European Gas Pipeline. For a long time, the Chief Engineer at KC-17, Alexander Konovalov, didn’t want to meet with me. He kept asking if I had permission. “Permission for what?”, I asked him back. “For you to tell me about your life and your work? And just whom exactly am I supposed to get this permission from? From Putin or from Schroeder?”

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Aerial view photo of compressor station KC-17 from advertising brochure

Konovalov finally agreed to meet me. The interview ended up being brief, because Alexander Sergeyevich, as it seemed to me, was ashamed of something the whole time. Perhaps of his own courage: without reporting it to his bosses, he had met with a journalist. But then afterwards the chief engineer even took me to the control room. Here, in brief, is the monologue of chief engineer Konovalov:

“Well, what can I tell you? After all, construction of the NEGP hasn’t yet begun here. We haven’t even seen the detailed working drawings in full volume yet. “Everybody knows that kilometer zero of the gas pipeline to German begins here. But they’re running the branch over from the side of Babayevo. From us, the gas will go in the direction of Sheksna, Cherepovets, then – to Babayevo, Tikhvin, Volkhov, Leningrad and to Vyborg. Where’s the gas coming from? For now from the central corridor, from Novy Urengoy, and when the Shtokman field is up and running – it will come from there. “I’ve seen the pipe. It’s bigger in diameter than those that we operate. And the pressure in it will be higher. “Of course, questions of the environment worry us. The burning of fuel is taking place, emissions… We are taking the zone of dispersal of the emissions into consideration, so it wouldn’t hit populated centers. The project design prescribes facilities for the incineration and recovery of wastes. All measures are being conducted here in order to reduce emissions, modernization of equipment for scrubbing emissions is being carried out. We are implementing control over pressure, temperature, everything is being tracked by instrumentation… We have an ecological service, there will be our own ecological laboratory. Capital repairs are being carried out. Ecological demands are being observed everywhere. An engineer is required to undergo ecological instruction.

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Photo of KC-17 Chief Engineer Alexander Konovalov by Grigory Pasko

“Tell about myself? I was born in Gryazovets, I completed school here, then the technicum. I’m a technician-electrician by specialty. I served two years in the army – in the Ukraine in Lvov Oblast, in Chervonograd, in the missile forces of strategic designation. I started as a laborer at the compressor station, then a shift engineer, dispatcher, head of the gas-compressor service. My wife works here, two sons are also here. “Yes, it is known that the pipeline to Germany will go along the bed of the Baltic Sea. I think that everything will be normal. The pipe will be less subjected to being damaged there, in contrast with the land portion. Yes, throughout Russia on land there are accidents. Especially near to populated centers, when any drunk excavator operator can break a trunk pipe… But under water – that’s a more reliable option, as it seems to me. There’s good insulation there, more stringent requirements, more rigorous testing. With a high quality of work nothing should happen. “There are, of course, problems, too. Old gas pipelines require capital repair. We conduct waterproofing, diagnostics…”

After this tale, Alexander Konovalov introduced me to a dispatcher with 30 years of experience – Alexander Salamatov. The dispatcher told me how the trunk pipelines are shut down in the event of unforeseen situations. As we were saying our goodbyes, I asked Konovalov how much people make at the KC. The chief engineer thought a moment and said: “A specialist of the 6th rank gets 20 thousand rubles”. I asked if he was satisfied with his salary. Konovalov smiled: “That’s in Moscow, in the management of the company, where they can be satisfied… That’s where the top-managers are, but here we’re, well… in a word, laborers.” In Gryazovets, I saw the homes of the gasmen: they’re better than those of many local inhabitants. A church was being erected not far from the residential houses. They say it was built for «Gazprom’s» money.

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Photo of new church in Gryazovets by Grigory Pasko

I didn’t manage to talk with anybody from the local power. It turned out that the head of the administration of Gryazovets Rayon was in Vologda at a meeting, while both of his deputies were on vacation. It was hot in the administration building, and the whole situation inclined one towards sleep and laziness. I walked into the department for the protection of natural resources. The chief turned out not to be in. But there was some kind of petty official. He categorically refused to speak with me not only about the construction of the gas pipeline, but even about the protection of nature as well. “Everything is normal here”, he said, fixing his gaze on his computer screen with such an expression as if though he was seeing it for the first time. Then for some reason he added: “The gasmen do not disturb the ecology”, although I hadn’t asked him about this. The little town of Gryazovets left the impression of a very Soviet little town of the times of Brezhnev. Construction, it seems, is conducted only by the rich little gasmen. In the only cafeteria in the whole place, they serve absolutely Soviet dishes – both in terms of variety and in terms of quality. During lunch, a funeral commemoration repast was taking place at neighboring tables. It’s best not even to enter the toilet without a gas mask. It’s as if though time has stood still here, frozen in the past. And only the church being built with modern construction materials bears witness that outside it is no longer the period of stagnation of the times of Brezhnev, but the period of return to stagnation of the times of Putin.