On a small island along Norway’s rugged western coast, a team of engineers receive a giant delivery aboard a low trailer with 500 wheels. Heavy snow falls as the last of 54 new modules arrives, packed with equipment to process natural gas. The final module is the biggest, standing 32 metres tall and weighing 2,500 tonnes – more than four fully-laden Airbus A380-800 airliners.

This is Nyhamna, one of Norway’s largest gas processing plants and an essential part of Europe’s sprawling gas supply network. The plant is expanding to receive supplies of gas from a new pipeline running in deep water through the Norwegian Sea. The pipeline will allow gas from new fields to be pumped to countries including the UK, France, Belgium and Germany for use in homes and businesses.  

Six thousand people, many of them in Norway, have designed and built the modules, and are connecting them to the plant’s existing facilities. The modules contain millions of smaller parts, all of which had to be delivered to the right place at the right time to keep the expansion project running like clockwork. 

EU countries are expected to become increasingly dependent on imports of gas as their own production falls, particularly in the UK North Sea. The EU wants to strengthen its energy ties with Norway, its second-largest supplier of gas after Russia, while Norway is keen to further develop its gas resources.

Nyhamna, which is operated by Shell, already supplies around 20% of the UK’s natural gas, produced at the Ormen Lange deep-water gas field 120 kilometres offshore. Once the expansion is finished, Nyhamna will be able to supply enough gas to the UK and continental Europe in the coming years to meet the equivalent of more than 22 million homes’ cooking and heating needs.

“It is a vast and complex project,” says Mark Wildon, Shell’s General Manager for Projects in Norway. “But it will ensure the supply of natural gas, the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, to the UK and continental Europe for decades to come.”

Giant jigsaw

The final module, delivered in January 2016, is designed to connect the gas pipeline to the plant. It is the last piece in a giant jigsaw puzzle.

A consortium led by Norwegian energy company Statoil installed the pipeline, called Polarled, in 2015. It stretches 480 kilometres from Nyhamna to Statoil’s Aasta Hansteen gas field through waters up to 1,260 metres deep. It was also the first gas pipeline to cross the Arctic Circle.

Norway’s state-owned gas infrastructure operator Gassco will operate the Polarled pipeline when it begins transporting gas.

“The pipeline and the expansion are landmark projects for the European natural gas industry,” says Wildon.

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