IN 1930 USSR DISCOVERS ITS FIRST OILFIELD LOCATED IN THE ARCTIC

June 18, 2023

The Russian North has always existed as a substantial resource base for the rest of the country. The sparsely populated and difficult-to-reach northern regions provided the Russian Empire’s treasury with revenues from forest resources, fish, and fur exports. The USSR developed new infrastructure and built cities in the North, all to exploit large deposits of metals and minerals.
Exploration of oil fields in the Ukhta region of Pechora krai began in the early 1910s. In 1915, the Russian partnership Neft (Oil) drilled the first exploration and production well, which struck oil.
These plans, however, were abandoned because of World War I.

One of the first geological appraisals, organised by the Northern Expedition in 1920, estimated sizable mineral resources in the Russian Arctic and prompted further research into the extent of resources in the region.
In early summer of 1929, a special agency SEVLON (Northern Special Purpose Camp) was formed within the OGPU (Joint State Political Directorate), and in August the first OGP expedition of 139 people, which included a large group of prisoners and carried heavy equipment, was sent to a place near the Ukhta river, where oil development had been started before the revolution.
As early as in September and October, the expedition noticed oil seeps and began to explore the possibility of industrial oil production. According to the memoirs of the engineer R. L. Zombe, “Drilling work began in September with the construction of the tower for craelius core drilling, then after some geological work the site of its emplacement was determined. The tower builders lacked experience and the construction works took more than a month but after Ya. M.?Moroz, the Head of the Ukhta Expedition, with his inherent bolshevist perseverance, able leadership, and inexhaustible energy, arrived in Ukhta, preparatory works were soon completed and well no. 1 was drilled on October 29,?1929.” In 1929, the first oil production at Ukhta was 5 tons.
At the end of November 1929, a new exploration and production well no.?5 was staked, the drilling of which began in the spring of the next year; and on October 25, 1930, light oil flew to the surface under natural pressure with the flow rate exceeding 4 tons a day. This confirmed the Chibyuskoe industrial field of Devonian oil and was the actual birthday of the oil and gas industry of the modern Republic of Komi.
However it may not be the first oilfield discovered in the Arctic. Oil was already found in 1911 by Imperial Oil in Canada, at Indian Wells located on the north bank of the McKenzie river, 145 km south of the Arctic Circle. A refinery was built in 1939.
Two years after the Chibyuskoye discovery, in 1932, Russian geologists discovered the large Yarega oil field, which was put into development in 1935.
The Yarega oil field is a pioneer not only in oil production but also in other aspects. Its oil is heavy and viscous. It was one of the first fields of hard-to-recover oil to be developed.
In the mid-1930s, Soviet geologists began to search for oil in the eastern regions of the Soviet Arctic, in the north of Siberia. In 1935, the Nordwick expedition described the surface oil seeps in the Nordwick region on the coast of the Laptev Sea. In 1936, the Ust’-Yenisei expedition, which was organized by the Geological and Mining Department, discovered methane seeps in the lower reaches of the Yenisei River. The works in the Yenisei region continued even during World War II. In 1942, the first flow of gas and then oil was pumped from Well 13-R at the Malokhet arch in the lower reaches of the Yenisei river. In 1944, the first oil was pumped from Well 102-R. In 1945, the lower reaches of the Nadym River was considered as one of the priority areas for hydrocarbon prospecting.
In the 1960s–1970s, geological prospecting concentrated in the recently discovered giant West Siberian oil and gas province. In 1962, the first gas field—Tazovskoe—was discovered in the YaNAO (Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug), in the Arctic part of the West Siberian oil and gas province. This event was followed by the discovery of new fields: the large Novoportovskoe oil and gas condensate field (1964), the large Gubkinskoe oil and gas condensate field and the unique Zapolyarnoe gas field (1965), the unique Urengoy oil and gas condensate field (1966), the unique Medvezhye gas field (1967), the Arctic gas field and Russkoe oil field (1968), and the unique Yamburg field (1969). Before the discoveries in West Siberia, the world had not known such gigantic gas fields.
In the 1980s–1990s, oil and gas fields were discovered in the northeast of the West Siberian oil and gas province, i. e., in the lower reaches of the Yenisei river in the Krasnoyarsk krai—the unique Vankor field and the large Tagul, Lodochnoe, and Suzun fields.
In the 1970s–1980s, major fields were discovered even farther to the north, in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug (NAO, Arkhangelsk oblast): Kharyaga (1970), Naul (1979), Yuzhno-Khylchuyuskoe (1981), Toboi-Myadsei (1984), Trebs (1987), Titov (1989). A total of twenty large and medium-sized fields were found in the NAO, the Kharyaga, Trebs, and Toboi-Myadsei being the largest ones.
Today Russia is among the three world leaders in hydrocarbon production and more than 90 percent of all its gas and about 10 percent of its oil come from deposits in the Russian Arctic.
(Source: The Arctic Institute/Wikipedia/Science First Hand/materials collected by L. G. Borozinets “OGPU Ukhta expedition of 1929” // Historical and Cultural Atlas, Ukhta. Central Library Municipal Organization of the Urban District “Ukhta”, 20155)