I have never been to Sakhalin. I’ve been lucky to visit some other oil and gas places but Sakhalin is so far away from European Russia, it’s almost another planet. Last year, Sakhalin produced a little more than 3% of Russia’s oil and condensate. The modest percentage does not explain what’s so special about the island’s oil and gas industry. It’s the fact that it has two projects operated by global majors under production-sharing agreements (PSAs), ExxonMobil and Shell, with Rosneft and Gazprom as the Russian partners.

Both projects involve some technologically sophisticated solutions such as wells with horizontal legs 11-12 kilometers long – drilled in the seabed under shallow waters from large onshore platforms by the coastline. Shell has also built the first LNG plant in Russia (two trains, 5 mm tons per year each) in the south of the island. Most of the oil and gas is produced in the north-east of the island, far from its capital city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk,

Sakhalin would have been worth visiting without the oil, although Chekhov paints a depressing picture of its nature and especially its climate. Luckily, Tim Newman of White Sun of the Desert has uploaded some of the pictures he took when working in Sakhalin. You won’t see anything like them elsewhere, so use the chance while it lasts.


  1. Thanks for this write-up! Yes, I consider myself extraordinarily privileged to have lived on Sakhalin – 4 years as a resident no less, none of this rotation stuff for me! It was a truly unique experience, particularly during the era I was there (it’s changed quite a bit now, not all for the better), and the nature was incredible. It is a truly stunning place, and one of the great things about taking photos of this beauty was knowing that very few people know about it, let alone have been there. That trip to the Piltun lighthouse I took in October 2008 was probably the most unusual I’ve ever done in terms of how many others had done it before me, even among the oilfield workers that trip was a one-off. It’s probably also worth mentioning that even now I enjoy professional kudos for having worked on Sakhalin and been part of the Sakhalin 2 development. I missed it when I left, but can’t honestly say I do now…I’ve moved on, I guess. But it took a while to do so, and I would not have missed it for the world.

    • As a hypothetical, let’s say Total were recruiting engineers in 2018 for a second stage of the Yamal LNG project, where the gas would have to be pumped from Gydan across the Ob Bay to Yamal – a very challenging project by all signs, if it every goes ahead of course, – do you think you would you give it a thought, ten years after your Sakhalin experience?

      • In a heartbeat. I do well in Russia because I understand the place and the people, gives me a huge advantage over those who don’t. Laughably Total didn’t put me forward for a position on Yamal LNG because I “didn’t have enough experience” despite my being the only person in the entire Total Group who has taken part in the construction of an LNG facility in Russia.

        • Go figure! But if you had been assigned, perhaps you’d be too senior to get sent to remote places like that for long periods?

          • My employer has this policy of *not* putting anybody in a place where they might have some natural advantage. That would mean they could operate semi-independently of their management, who would rather see them confused, unhappy, and disoriented and reliant on scraps of misleading information passed down from on high. I knew one guy fluent in Portuguese who they sent to Nigeria rather than Angola, I suspect for this reason.

            Seniority doesn’t keep you out of the hardship locations: in most companies it is expected you’ll not only do one assignment there, you’ll go back for another in a similar location in a more senior role. Somebody has to do the senior jobs in these places.

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