Archive

No. 3, 2004

Alexander Matveichuk,
PhD (History)

THE EARLY BEGINNINGS OF THE URALS CRUDE OIL


Oil production was launched in the Perm Region 75 years ago

The history of the Perm Region's oil industry goes back to April 16, 1929, when the Urals' first commercial-sized oil field was discovered outside the tiny village of Verkhnechusovskiye Gorodki on the bank of river Rassoshka.

It all started with potash salt

It sounds incredible today that as late as a hundred years ago the Kama area was not even remotely identified with oil. And that despite the fact that the presence of petroleum in the Perm territory had been mentioned in the 18th-century documents. To quote Villim Gennin (1676-1750), the manager of Urals ore mines and metallurgical works, "The mountain on the Vishera river bank contains dense substance like pitch or oil" (The History of Ore Mining and Metallurgy in the Urals and Siberia, 1735). "Oil sources" were spotted in those parts and reported by the Russian academicians Ivan Lepekhin (1740-1802) and Pyotr Pallas (1741-1811), by the well-known British geologist, Honorary Fellow of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences Roderick Murchinson (1792-1871), the mining engineers Gennady Romanovsky (1830-1906) and Pavel Yeremeyev (1830-1899) and many others.

Nevertheless, the Russian Geological Committee had not included that region in its oil prospecting plans before 1917, and Perm residents depended on Baku for their kerosene.

In the 1920s the famous Soviet geologist Academician Ivan Gubkin made a shrewd guess that the western slopes of the Urals contained oil.

The seemingly unrelated developments that followed almost miraculously combined to open up the Kama's hidden treasure troves of "black gold."

In 1924, the Urals Branch of the Geological Committee instructed Prof. Pavel Preobrazhensky of the Perm University to inspect the archives of Urals ore mines and metallurgical works. A thorough study of those records led him to the conclusion that the region might be rich in potassium. Indications of that dated back to 1916 when particles of sylvinite (KCl+NaCl) were found embedded in core samples from the Lyudmilinskaya brine-lifting well; in 1918, an analysis of brines from Solikamsk plant showed a slightly higher-than-normal potassium content. A number of samples from the salt mines of Solikamsk and Usolye showed signs of potassium presence.

Upon hearing out Prof. Preobrazhen-sky's report, the Geological Committee decided on drilling exploratory wells in places of abandoned salt mines. The nation's agriculture was in bad need of potassium fertilizers previously imported from Germany for the most part. Therefore, a great deal was expected from Prof. Preobrazhensky's expedition. Funds were allocated for potassium prospecting in the Solikamsk district. A dismantled Calix drill was brought in from the Mariinskaya taiga, Moscow sent over a mobile steam power plant, more drilling equipment and tools arrived from the Caucasus and the Urals. Selecting the location for the first well was no easy matter. Having generalized and analyzed all the geological data he had gathered, Prof. Preobrazhensky decided on the bank of river Usolka, a Kama tributary, just outside the town of Solikamsk. The first borehole was spudded on October 5, 1925, to reach, 92 m down, a thick stratum of sylvinite-rich potassium salts. Borehole No. 2, spudded 1.5 km westward, revealed an analogous section. That was how the famous Verkhnekamskoye potassium salt deposit was discovered.

The geologist's lot

The credit for striking oil in the Kama area belongs by right to Pavel Preobrazhensky (1874-1944), although the "Perm period" of his life was not a too long one. It is Prof. Preobrazhensky who went down in history as the discoverer of oil in the Urals.

His road to success was a long and, as it often happens, a thorny one. Born in 1874 in a small town of Demyansk outside Nizhny Novgorod, Pavel Preobrazhensky finished high school, graduated from the St. Petersburg Mining Institute with honors in 1900 and went on his first expedition to the Urals. From 1904 on, his professional assignments took him to the remote parts of Siberia where he did a geological survey of the Lena gold fields, the Vitim and Bodaybo river basins and the Patomskoye highland. He spent more than a decade studying the geology of out-of-the-way parts of Siberia.

His research findings received wide recognition; in 1907 Pavel Preobrazhensky was elected a member and, in 1913, the Senior Geologist of the Geological Committee of Russia.

At that time, Prof. Preobrazhensky applied himself to exploring Siberia and charting geological maps of its "blank spaces." However, his highly successful teaching and research career was all but cut short by the turmoil that followed the overthrow of autocracy in the Russian Empire.

After February 1917, the Provisional Government offered Pavel Preobra-zhensky the post of Deputy Minister of Vocational Training which he held until the Bolshevik coup of 1917.

He then went back to the Geological Committee which, in 1918, sent him to the Turgai Region on a prospecting mission. On his way, he got caught in the thick of the violent disturbances that raged throughout the Volga area and Western Siberia then.

In November 1918, Admiral Alexander Kolchak (1872-1920) formed the so-called Omsk government in Omsk. Its prime minister, the lawyer Pyotr Vologodsky (1863-1928), offered Pavel Preobrazhensky the post of the public education minister.

On November 10, 1919, the government moved to Irkutsk where Admiral Kolchak was deposed in January 1920. After the Red Army units had marched into the city, Pavel Preobrazhensky was arrested and put behind bars there and then, but later transferred to the Omsk jail. He faced the grim prospect of being subjected to proletarian summary justice and sentenced to "supreme penalty."

His friends and colleagues in the Geological Committee stepped in to safe his life. Even Maxim Gorky, the famous writer and a fellow-townsman of Preobrazhensky's, rushed a wire to Lenin, the head of the Soviet government, saying: "Please show mercy for Preobrazhensky, a prominent geologist useful to nation."

The scales were eventually tipped by Professor Nikolay Ottokar, Rector of Perm University, who petitioned the Higher Schools Department of the People's Commissariat of Public Education to intercede for Prof. Preobrazhensky and to have him transferred from a hard labor camp to Perm where the prospecting department set up under the faculty of physics and mathematics needed his expert guidance badly.

In 1922, the geologist Pavel Preobrazhensky embarked on a fruitful research and teaching career in the Kama area to which he owes a highlight in his long and extremely eventful life.

The Verkhnechusovaya sensation

In 1927-1928, Prof. Preobrazhensky's prospecting party was busy defining Р as accurately as possible Р the boundaries of potassium deposits.

In their memoirs, the eye-witnesses of those remote events claim, with good reason, that Professor Preobrazhensky hardly expected to strike oil in the Kama area, even by a geological miracle. Famous well No. 20, spudded in the fall of 1928 on the bank of the Rassoshka river in a picturesque location outside the ancient village of Verkhnechusovskiye Gorodki (founded way back in 1616) was intended for the so-called delimitation of the Verkhne-kamskoye potassium salt deposit.

Drilling foreman Prokopy Pozdnyakov's team got down to sinking the well on October 18, 1928. Most of the drilling was done using removable core bits with core samples lifted to the surface. At the depth of 155 m, the bit cut into rock strata which, contrary to expectations, contained no potassium salts. The Geological Committee's administration called a halt but Professor Preobrazhensky told his men to carry on.

On April 16, 1929, "a thick film of oil, bubbling with gas," came up from the depth of 325 m all of a sudden. That was the first time Kama area oil revealed itself to man.

The sight of it infused the drilling team with renewed energy. At the depth of 400 m oil-saturated limes gave way to water-bearing ones indicating the bottom boundary of an oil reservoir. On May 1, 1929, drilling was suspended - oil could gush forth any moment, but there were no containers to collect it in. Well testing was put off until June.

On May 4, 1929, the Perm's newspaper Zvezda front-paged the Chusovaya sensation. "Another 'pearl' - Perm oil - has been added to the untold mineral wealth of the Urals," the report went. "Just how large its resources are and what it will mean to the Urals economy - the future alone will tell. The presumable oil beds occur right in the middle of the Perm-Chusovaya-Lysva industrial triangle and, besides, in the immediate vicinity of the industrial railroad."

On May 14, 1929, the Presidium of the Verkhne-Gorodskoy Regional Executive Committee adopted a special resolution which said: "The presence of oil in the Urals within the boundaries of our region is of tremendous national importance, it will revolutionize the whole of the Urals' industry and make all the difference for the economy of our region."

On May 16, 1929, the Zvezda carried a report under a flashy headline "Oil the Like of Which Has Never Been Found in the USSR Before" saying: "In its color and smell Urals oil differs from the Grozny and Baku brands. Urals oil is superior to that of Grozny and burns extremely well. Crude Urals oil will probably not do for engines if not refined, but it is viscous enough to make asphalt."

In May 1929 the North-Caucasian Territorial Miners' Committee sent a telegram to the Urals Regional Committee saying: "The newly-discovered oil-bearing province is of an extraordinary importance to the Soviet Union. In order to speed up its development, we are taking it under our patronage jointly with the Grozneft organization. We are sending over necessary equipment and 49 skilled workers. If there is anything else we can do for you, let us know by telegraph. Every cooperation is immediately forthcoming."

The first test of well No. 20 carried out in June showed that its production rate amounted to 40 tons a day. On August 15, 1929, the well was put into service and given a new number - No. 101.

Notably, it produced about eight thousand tons of oil over 11 years of its existence (until October 1940).

Following the establishment (in June 1929) of Eastern Russia's first drilling center, Uralneft, headed by Roman Buchatsky, an experienced driller, production wells began mushrooming in Verkhnechusovskiye Gorodky. Toward the winter of 1929-1930, twenty-nine wells were put into commercial operation in Verkhnechusovskiye Gorodki; two, near Kizel-Gubakha; and one apiece in Cherdyn, Usolye, Shumkovo and Ust-Kishert.

In 1933, the oil field produced about 15,000 tons of oil. In the same year, the Verkhnechusovsky Refinery was commissioned to pioneer gasoline production in the Urals. Emphasizing the importance of discovering oil in the Perm Region, Prof. P.H. Sofronitsky, the well-known geologist, pointed out: "The discovery of Verkhne-chusovskaya oil gave an impetus to oil prospecting between the Volga and the Urals. The Verkhnechusovskoy field triggered the progress of the Perm Region's oil industry."

The 1930s have receded far into the past but the memories of the pioneering Perm oilmen live on. The workers of JSC LUKOIL-Perm, the successors to those pioneers, cherish the rich traditions of the past and are adding worthily to the Urals oil industry's record of achievement.




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Oil of Russia, No. 3, 2004
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