First attempts of geological study

In the early 19th century, the extraction of oil from surface seepages in the Southeast Trans-Kama region and the Southern Pre-Urals began to attain an industrial scale, to meet the growing demand for new sources of the mineral raw and efficient fuel. The Geographical Dictionary published in 1804 contained the mentions of the Kurgan plant and the oil mines in the Bugulma district of the Orenburg province at the time.

However, the vigorous start of industrial exploration of the underground wealth was hindered, just as before, by the absence of reliable geological studies. The general processes of oil formation, and the nature of probable local deposits, i.e. the occurrence depth, oil-bearing capacity estimation were still not studied.

Meanwhile, the needs of the Military Department and the economic development of the country necessitated the solution of those questions. In 1837, Andrei Gerngross, a mining engineer, having an assignment from the Military Department, launched the prospecting of asphalt in the Simbirsk, Kazan and Orenburg provinces. The prospecting works resulted in the discovery of surface oil shows in the Pre-Volga region: in the district of Syukeyevo and the Trans-Kama region on the Sok River. One of the most important conclusions was an assumption that the deposits of oil and bitumen in the area were quite substantial, but «the main deposit is hidden in the stony scull of the earth».

At the same time, the oil deposits of the Volga-Urals region attracted attention in the West. In 1845, in London, an authoritative English geologist, Chairman of the London Geological Society, Roderick Murchison, published a book after he had visited Russia twice by invitation of the Russian Government. During his stay in the country he made a long trip to the Volga and Urals regions. It resulted in writing a book, in which Murchison set forth his views on the geology of the central part of Russia and made assumptions concerning its mineral wealth.

Meanwhile, geology as a science kept perfecting its methods. Kazan University joined the exploration of the mineral wealth in the 50s of the 19th century. In 1859, the Scientific Notes of the Kazan University journal published an article by Prof. P.I. Wagner, in which he substantiated an assumption about the occurrence, at a considerable depth, of the «liquid rock tar» (i.e. bitumen) in the region of the Syukeyevsky mountains. At the same time, the geological structure of the inner regions of Russia was studied by Prof. G.D. Romanovsky, a member of the Scientific Mining Committee. He made several trips to Syukeyevo, the Sok River and the Samarskaya Luka in the 60s, carried out a profound study of the issue. He also visited the USA to study the geology of oil.

The geological studies during the second third of the 19th century were carried out with the comprehensiveness and scrupulousness that were exhaustive for that time. However, the main obstacle to the development of science at that period was the insufficiency and often impossibility to perform drilling works.

The first attempt of borehole exploring in the Trans-Kama region was made in 1864 by a landowner Ya. Malakienko from Bugulma. He had been exploring oil over three years and drilled several wells in the region of the Sheshma River in the places of intensive oil seepages. The deepest well drilled by Malakienko was 73.5 metres deep. However, the Malakienko’s enterprise appeared to be unprofitable and was soon closed. Prof. Romanovsky, who was familiar with the businessman, saw the main reason of his failure in the deep occurrence of oil.

One of the most adventurous pages in the history of oil prospecting is connected with an American oilman and geologist, Lazlo Shandor. Being experienced in oil extraction and refining in the USA, and possessing a considerable capital, he decided to try his luck in the new places. Trans-Kama region, he believed, was promising in many respects: he saw obvious signs of large oil deposits that were located closer to the centers of kerosene consumption than Baku. Besides, the competition in the region was quite small.

In 1877, he began the drilling works. All in all he drilled 5 wells that were 39 to 353 meters deep. Though they did not produce oil-gushers, the signs of the «big oil» were obvious. In his report to the Mining Department Shandor informed that all his prospects in the Kazan, Samara and Simbirsk provinces were successful. He had every reason to state that «the lands near the villages of Shugur and Sarabikulovo are oil-stained». It seemed that a little final effort would be enough for oil to be struck near Shugur. The time went by and the capital ran out, but the desired aim – the petroliferous stratum – was still not reached. All his endeavours to establish a joint-stock company for oil extraction failed. In 1880, Sandor terminated his drilling works. He was just a step away from the desired aim. If only he had increased the depth of penetration of well to 600 meters, the glory of the man who discovered the Tatar oil would have belonged to him.

Approximately at the same time, another businessman, Glinsky, was engaged in drilling and bitumen development in the region of Syukeyevo. He had a small bitumen plant and carried out the active drilling works. However, he was also doomed to failure and complete bankruptcy.

What was the reason of failures of Sandor and other businessmen? Was it a mere lack of fortune? Hardly. Apparently it was largely connected with the lag of science and imperfection of the drilling techniques. In fact, it was impossible to identify the actual size of oil layers and their structure without deep drilling. Besides, the experience accumulated by scientists by that time was not used in full. It seems that Sandor believed too strongly in the similarity of American and Tatar oil deposits. However, his experience showed vividly that the time of home-craft had gone and the future of oil production was connected with large mechanized productions.

However, the prospecting of the promising oilfields continued. In 1911, a German geological engineer and businessman, Frenkel, came to Kazan. Familiar by hearsay with the bad luck of Sandor and other entrepreneurs in the Trans-Kama region, he decided that the deposits near the village of Syukeyevo were the most promising. He spent two years conducting a thorough examination of the oil shows and bitumen seepages and concluding the lease agreements. In 1913, he succeeded to convince a group of English investors, who were apparently close to the Rothschilds, that his undertaking was worthwhile. They founded a joint-stock company called Kazan Oil Fields Ltd. In order to explore and extract oil in Syukeyevo. The engineers drilled three wells that were 85 to 100 m deep and obtained the encouraging evidences of bitumen presence. At the same time, the company began the bituminous limestone quarrying. But in 1914, following the beginning of the World War I, Kazan Oil Fields Ltd. had to suspend its activity still having found no oil.

In other words, in the beginning of the 20th century scientists and businessmen understood that the Middle Volga region and especially the Southeast Trans-Kama area were potentially oil-bearing. However, those conclusions were not supported by practical results. Thus, a specialized Russian journal titled Neftyanoye Delo (Oil Business) wrote as early as in 1900 about the necessity to start the deep drilling in the region of Shugur, Sarabikulovo and Kamyshly, where Malakienko and Sandor had carried out their prospecting works. However, the progress of geology and oil prospecting was interrupted by the Bolshevik revolution and the Civil War.