Full metal living in Soviet oil tankers

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 4.05.37 AM

Aristide Antonas, a famous Greek architect, writer, and professor at the University of Thessaly, is known for his innovative housing solutions. One of these is making a home out of an oil tanker no longer in commission.

The Greek architect's prototype
The Greek architect’s prototype

The cylindrical avant-garde mobile concept home has all the amenities of a modern dwelling – windows, furniture, rugs, bathtub, sink, even hatches on the top of the oil tanker to let in sunshine.

Just as the ‘tiny-house’ minimalist living phenomenon is winning favor with hipsters in the West, so is the concept of living in a full metal compartment that used to transport raw and refined oil products.


What Mr. Antonas may not know is that he isn’t the first person to dream up tanker-conversion living. Forty years ago, the Soviet Union began the large-scale production of the first barrel home in 1975. The first on the market was the 21-DOZ-21, made at the Sokolskiy woodworking integrated plant in Vologda, a town some 400 kilometers north of Moscow. Next came the famous TsUB-2M, which is designed for four people. The tanker is insulated with polystyrene foam and has water heating.

full metal jacket 3

Fittingly, oil workers lived in these cylindrical homes, which were able to withstand temperatures of minus 65 °C and winds of 60 m/s. Inside, there is an entrance hall, a bedroom, a dining room, as well as a shower and toilet – everything you need to reside comfortably. When the tanker wasn’t being used as a home, it could haul helicopters.

Production of the TsUB-2M was discontinued, but the tankers in their dilapidated form still remain in Russia’s vast and desolate North, and are occupied by entrepreneurial summer residents.

full metal jacket 4

A small colony of abandoned tankers was discovered on Graham Bell Island in Russia’s Franz Josef Archipelago. Remains of rock art, an attempted cucumber garden, toothbrushes, books, and letters were found. The TsUB shelters were used to post troops outside of major settlements, sometimes in Afghanistan. Their portability made them an attractive lodging option for the army, and soldiers preferred them to living in the barracks.

The housing concept was also used in the 1980s to house athletes on Mt. Elbrus. The fully-furnished tubular homes were easy to transport up long and careening roads in the mountains.

Image courtesy of Denis Balitsky
Image courtesy of Denis Balitsky

Photos for this story were taken from Aristide Antonas’s flickr website, ru-abandoned.livejournal.com, and www.sokoldok.ru.

The Impending Breakup of Gazprom, Russia’s Gas Giant

gazprom split neftianka

In October, Russian President Putin will have to make a decision on breaking up Gazprom, the country’s largest exporter of natural gas, RBC reported. The company will likely have to give other companies, such as Novatek, Lukoil, Rosneft, and Surgutneftegas access to their pipelines and gas storage facilities.

Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) has long been working to break up Russia’s “national treasure”, and believes that liberalizing the export market will bring about more fair and competitive gas transport prices and tariffs.

The verdict on whether or not to divy up Russia’s national breadwinner is split. The company, which accounts for 8 percent of Russia’s economy, is seen as a source of pride for many Russians. In 2012, when Russians were asked where they would work if they could choose any large company, 44 percent said Gazprom.

If the company is split, Rosneft is clearly a winner, as it will be able to sink its teeth into the $400 billion gas deal Gazprom sealed with China in May 2015.

The FAS will soon submit a formal request to break up Gazprom to Russian Vladimir Putin’s presidential commission on fuel and energy sector, RBC reported citing FAS deputy head Anatoly Golomolzin.

According to Golomolzin, discussions are being initiated by Rosneft. If action is taken, Gazprom will also lose its monopoly on gas exports to China, and Rosneft will be allowed to send its oil to China via Gazprom’s pipelines.

Vladimir Blinkov, the lead researcher at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, has accused the FAS of ‘anti-Gazpromization’, alleging that the regulator has a conflict of interest in helping Gazprom’s competitors.

The split shouldn’t be a shock to anyone, Gazprom has been under attack since the 1990s. In 2007 then-First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev gave the FMS orders to look at Gazprom. In 2013, Russian President Putin signed into law amendments to the gas export law aimed to break Gazprom’s monopoly on foreign export, particularly LNG.

Even though Gazprom achieved revenues of 4.48 trillion rubles in 2014, is a relic of the Soviet Union and isn’t keeping up with its competitors in profit. While in 2014 Gazprom’s profits reached 157 billion rubles, Surgneftgaz posted 885 billion rubles in profits. Rosneft outpaced Gazprom in profits by hundreds of millions, and Lukoil, the country’s second-largest oil company, topped it by about 24 billion rubles.

Novatek and Rosneft will aggressively take advantage of the liberalized export market and begin the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG), especially to growing Asian markets.

The behemoth has failed to innovate, especially in LNG technology, since a majority of the company’s revenues (50%) are made in pipeline transport of natural gas to Europe, a very lucrative market.

Competitors Novatek and Rosneft are eager to get into the LNG market, and already have plans for LNG facilities. Currently, Russia only has one LNG plant in operation, the Sakhalin-2 project in the Far East, a joint project between Gazprom (50%), Royal Dutch Shell (27.5%), Japan Mitsui (12.5%), and Mitsubishi subsidiary Diamond Gas (10%). Despite falling demand from Asia, the terminal plans to produce 10.8 million tonnes in 2016.

Rosneft plans to launch its own LNG plant on Sakhalin with a 5 million tons per year capacity in 2020. ExxonMobil is a partner.

Novatek’s Yamal LNG project in the Arctic, once finished, will have a 16.5 million tonnes per year capacity. Novatek has partners with France’s Total and China’s CNPC.

Sanctions Delay Russia’s Arctic Shelf Drilling Dream by 2-3 years

Cartoon by The Moscow Times
Cartoon by The Moscow Times

Gazprom and Rosneft will have to delay Arctic offshore drilling operations for two to three years, Russian Natural Resources and Environment Ministry Deputy Minister Denis Khramov said at a conference on September 29 in Russia’s Far East.

He blamed sanctions and the inability of Russia to get the equipment it needs to complete its ambitious Arctic Shelf drilling goals. Khramov warned Russia is falling behind neighboring Norway.

The bad news:

– In 2017, Russia will only drill two wells, instead of the planned 14,

– In 2019, only 19 wells will begin drilling stead of the previously announced 28.

The good news:

– Oil and gas companies can focus on developing onshore projects in Far East.

– Drilling in the Arctic isn’t profitable at current oil prices, maybe it will be in 2-3 years.

In 2014, Russia drilled 11 wells. By comparison, Norway drilled 57 last year. Norway is currently developing 80 fields that produce 180 million tons of oil equivalent, whereas Russia is producing 83 million tons and developing 13 fields, four of which are coastal.

Though Mr. Khramov didn’t mention it outright, low oil prices play a significant role in the decision as drilling in the Arctic is more expensive, less predictable, and more dangerous than simply pulling oil out of the ground in Siberia.

Russian business daily Vedomosti estimates that Gazprom and Rosneft (the only companies that have the right to drill in the Arctic) spend $500 million each time they drill a new well, and an additional $700 to build a platform in order to extract the oil.

By 2025 Russian oil companies are obliged to drill 142 exploratory wells, which combined will cost at least $50 billion, according to Vedomosti. Though revenues are at a record high, both Rosneft and Gazprom are heavily indebted and weighed down major capital-intensive projects across the Eurasian continent.

The logical answer would be to get money from foreign partners, but US and EU sanctions against Russia forbid the sale of new offshore drilling equipment and technology. Sanctions ExxonMobil forced to bow out the Kara Sea project with Rosneft, just weeks after the ‘University 1′ well started pumping oil in the East-Prinovozemelsky 1 block.

Arctic reserves in Russian waters are estimated at 13.19 trillion cubic meters of gas and 1.69 billion tons of oil, or about one-third of total Arctic resources.

Gazprom has five licenses to explore and develop the Arctic shelf, and Rosneft has eight. Under Russian law, only companies that are more than 50% state-owned and also have at least years of Arctic experiences are eligible for permits. The energy giants were awarded permits in June 2013, which they reportedly received after paying major bribes.