Attempts to Organize Oil Refining in the Trans-Kama Region

It was only nearly half a century after some capital newspaper mentioned about oil from the Trans-Kama region that the first attempt was made to organize its regular production and industrial refining. This page in the history of oil field development is connected to the name of a well-known Tatar foreman Nadir Urazmetov.

Nadir Urazmetov originated from a noble Tatar family that owned land in the Eastern Trans-Kama region granted yet by Kazan khans. After the annexation of the region by the Russian State his ancestors moved to the region north-eastward of Kazan. However, in the beginning of the 18th century, Nadir Urazmetov returned to the Trans-Kama region where he found «an empty land between Kazan and Ufa uyezds by the Zai, Sheshma and Cheremshan rivers». In 1729, he applied to the Senate with request to approve the allocation of that land to him. The permission was given in 1735 and later the area was called «the Nadir’s volost» (district).

Being an enterprising and educated man with a good knowledge of agriculture and some mining skills, he attempted to establish an integrated economy in his territory. He was one of the first who took advantage of the decree issued by Peter I granting the «freedom of mining» and began the construction of copper-melting plants on the Kichui river and production of cupriferous sandstone. In 1753, he applied to the Berg-Collegium with request to allow him to build an «oil plant» on the Sok to refine the collected oil and sell it everywhere at optional prices. To show the viability of his plans he sent to the Berg-Collegium a sample of oil for the relevant analysis. The analysis was done and established that oil sent from the Trans-Kama region was heavy, but, in general, of quite good quality.

After several years of consideration, the Berg-Collegium finally gave its permission to build a plant. In 1768, Academician Pyotr Pallas, travelling in eastern provinces of Russia, visited the area of the Sok and saw «a plant near the top of the Kamyshly, and another plant that was built in the vicinity of Surgut». There, according to him, Nadir Urazmetov «was intended to collect local asphalt for production of oil». But the construction was stopped right after it was commenced because of illness of Nadir Urazmetov and refusal of his partners to continue the work.

However, the Berg-Collegium, interested in oil production in the Trans-Kama region, send a topographer Pavel Zubrinsky, to inspect and register the oil fields. Zubrinsky not only found a «great amount of oil» but also put its sources on the map. His report is considered to be the first cartographic evidence of oil presence in the Trans-Kama region and the possibility of its industrial development.

Approximately at the same time, Yakov Shakhanin, a «pioneer of mining», drew attention of the Berg-Collegium to the probable oil-bearing character of the right bank of the Volga in the territory of the Kazan and Samara provinces, and in particular, of the oil sources of Syukeyevo. He also sent a sample of oil for analysis, but it proved to be water with a small content of oil. However, the conclusion made by Dr. Amman from the Russian Academy of Sciences stated that this oil «…can be used in icon-lamps. If its thinnest and lightest particles are separated by distillation, it will be nearly the same as the Persian oil». He established a company to build a plant for development of oil and bitumen fields, but for some reasons the company closed even before it began operating.

There were however more successful attempts of industrial development of oil fields. In the middle of the 18th century an industrial facility of Earl Sergei Yaguzhinsky was established in the Bugulminsky and Ufimsky uyezds (regions). Apart from several copper-melting plants and ironworks, he owned two oil sources and an oil refinery. To all appearances, the oil «mines» were artificial pits used for collection of water with oil. The collected and settled oil was sent by cartage or by water transport to towns for the needs of the state and population. It was a most simple enterprise for extraction and refining of oil.

However, despite the relative failure of Nadir Urazmetov and other pioneers of industrial production and refining of oil, their efforts should not be underestimated. Actually, those were the first, initial attempts to practically use oil and bitumens from the Trans-Kama and Pre-Volga regions. They not just attracted attention of the Berg-Collegium to those fields, initiated the collection of samples and preliminary exploration works, but also took practical steps to their development.

In 1734, the Orenburg Academic Expedition was established to study minerals in the Volga-Ural region. A great contribution to its successful work was made by a prominent Russian scientist, geographer, historian and ethnographer, correspondent member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Pyotr Rychkov (1712-1777).

The reports of this Expedition were the first scientific description of the oil-bearing fields in the territory of Eastern Trans-Kama region. Pyotr Rychkov left a huge scientific heritage, in which a prominent place belongs to «The Orenburg Topography» published in 1755. In it the author many times pointed to different indications of oil on both the Sok and in the other parts of the Trans-Kama and Trans-Volga regions. For instance, describing a suburb of Sergiyevsk (in the upper part of the Sok), he noted that «near to this suburb there are multiple mineral lands and waters worth of special description, most often found here are combustible sulphur and oily waters. Doctor of medicine Rinder… himself saw a great number of water springs that flow from hills and lakes with water though clean but with a strong oily smell, and the genuine oil is quite visible on its surface».

After the resignation of Pyotr Rychkov the study of the Volga-Ural region was carried out by Ivan Lepekhin and Pyotr Pallas, Nikolai Rychkov, and Johan Falk. The works of these scientists not only contributed to a more thorough study of geography of the region and its mineral wealth, but also laid the foundations of the contemporary science, accumulating the knowledge about the patterns of location of different fields, peculiarities of their occurrence and chemical composition. In the last third of the 18th century practically all large deposits of minerals were discovered, but not all of them were of interest for industrial production.