The first commersial oil of Tatarstan

One of the first decrees of the Soviet Power was the Decree on Nationalization of the Oil Industry. Meanwhile, the revolution and the subsequent Civil War and devastation had broken the traditional economic links. After the troops of Entente occupied Baku, the supply of the Central Russia, its cities and industrial enterprises with oil products was disrupted.

Under such circumstances it was necessary not only to put in order the oil deliveries from Baku but also to find the local oil resources. For this purpose the Central Oil Committee was created under the Soviet of People’s Commissars. Ivan Gubkin, an outstanding geologist, member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, one of the founders of the oil industry of the Soviet Union, was appointed the Head of the Committee. With his exceptional knowledge of the geology of oil, Gubkin was a steady supporter of the idea about the presence of the vast oil reserves in the Volga-Ural region. It was he who convinced Lenin to pay attention to bitumen deposits in the Pre-Volga region and constantly supervised the oil prospecting works in it.

In April of 1919 a local Oil Committee was established in Kazan. Engineer Yakov Frenkel was appointed its chairman. Lenin himself supervised the progress of work in the Pre-Volga region. In summer of 1919 he sent a message to the Head of the scientific and technical department of the Supreme Soviet of the National Economy, Nikolai Gorbunov: «Find out what has been done regarding the organization of extraction of fuel from shales of the Syzran district and the Kazan oil». The situation with oil was menacing, and Lenin tried to speed up the exploration of the «Kazan oil» in the vicinity of Syukeyevo. As early as in September of 1919, the Mining Department of the Volga-Ural region under the Chief Oil Committee was established. It also included the Administration of the Syukeyevo Oilfield of the Kazan province. The same year the Chief Oil Committee adopted a resolution on organization of drilling works in the region of the Sheshma River near the village of Nizhnyaya Karmalka. The drilling works were supervised by the Naval Department with consultations of Mikhail Noinsky, a geologist from Kazan.

In 1920, a famous geologist Kazimir Kalitsky was sent to the region for a thorough consideration of the question. He formulated and grounded a hypothesis that became a long-standing hindrance to the new oil explorations and discoveries in the southeast Trans-Kama region. The surface oil seepages, in his opinion, were nothing else but an outcropping of depleted layers and the remains of viscous oil (alluvial oil tar).

It should be noted that Kalitsky was not the only one who was skeptical on this point. In a volume titled «Natural Productive Forces of Russia» published yet in 1918, a representative of the Geological Committee, A. Zamyatin noted that the prospects to extract liquid oil in the Volga region were negative.

The new government was disappointed with the first unsuccessful attempts to discover and develop the oilfields in the Volga region and, in 1923, the decision was taken to stop all works in the vicinity of Syukeyevo and liquidate the field. Later, it was also decided that geological prospecting had to be stopped in the Volga region, and, in May 1924, the prospecting works were stopped in accordance with the resolution of the Mining Directorate of the Supreme Soviet of the National Economy, and the Volga Oil-Prospecting Department was liquidated on 1 June, 1924.

In the 1920s, the government proclaimed a quite liberal economic policy that allowed entrepreneurship and rent of state-owned enterprises. The Syukeyevo Oil Prospecting Enterprise became one of such companies. The necessary amendments were introduced to the legislation. In 1923, a decree «On Entrails And Their Development» was issued abrogating another Decree of 1920 that proclaimed the monopoly of the state over the development of natural resources. Kazan Oilfields Ltd. took advantage of the situation and resumed its activity in the Pre-Volga region. Another company that tried to come back to the oil-prospecting business in the Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was Demin & Co. headed by M. Demin. We must give credit to the faith of those people who, despite all pessimistic forecasts of experts concerning the presence of oil in the Pre-Volga region, were ready to venture their capitals. However, the liberal policy with respect to private business lasted not very long. By the end of the 20s the private initiative was suppressed by new laws and enormous taxes.

At the same time, in 1927, the Bugulma Canton Committee of the CPSU (b) adopted a resolution to speed up the reconstruction of the Shugur asphalt plant that was stopped in 1922 for a long repair. The plant gradually increased its production capacities to become the biggest plant in the region for extraction of bitumen and other oil products.

Despite the fact that the oil-prospecting works were stopped, in 1925 the Head of the Tatar Board for Mining Supervision, V. Sobolev, and Prof. Noinsky were instructed by decision of the interdepartmental meeting to prepare a long-term plan of mining and geological, exploration and prospecting works in Tataria.

In April 1929, one of the expeditions that performed drilling works during the exploration of deposits of potassium salts in the vicinity of Perm found commercial accumulations of oil in the sediments of the Permian period. That had struck a heavy blow to sceptics who doubted the existence of commercial deposits of oil. But the most important thing was that the discovery gave an impetus to starting the deep drilling of the promising layers.

The regions to be explored and prospected by core drilling for oil and bitumens included, in addition to the Vyatka Ridges, the districts of the Tatar ASSR in the basins of the Sok and Sheshma Rivers, as well as the basin of the Sviyaga and Ulema Rivers. The Vostokneft Trust located in the Sverdlovsk Oblast (region) was chosen to be the head organisation to fulfil that task, since Tatarstan had no local capacities for technically difficult deep drilling after all its geological prospecting trusts were liquidated.

The discovery, in 1937, of commercial oil deposits in the Tuimazy district of the Bashkir ASSR, located on the border with Tataria, confirmed, though indirectly, the assumption that oil could also be found in the similar layers of the republic. In 1938 the People’s Commissar for Heavy Industry of the USSR issued an order that established an independent geological board in Tataria. It was decided to start the commercial prospecting by deep drilling of the Syukeyevo, Shugur and Bouldyr structures in Tatarstan. For that purpose, the Bouldyr Prospecting Enterprise was established in Chistopol that began the preparation for deep drilling.

The year of 1940 became another turning point, since it was that year when the first Tatar scientific oil conference dedicated to consideration of the results of the geological prospecting works in the republic was held. Unfortunately, they proved to be unfavourable. Despite the self-sacrificing efforts of the executive bodies of the republic, the working plan was many times frustrated. But the most regretful thing was that they brought no result. At the same time, the materials presented by participants of the conference, including N. Chernomorsky, Ye. Tikhvinskaya, etc., stated that up to 45 potentially oil-bearing structures were registered in the territory of Tataria in the course of the geological surveys, which was more than in the other districts of the Volga-Ural region.

As a result, a decision was taken, which proved to be not simply important, but had a truly historic significance. It was decided to establish a united trust named Tatgeologorazvedka (Tatar Geological Prospecting Enterprise) that got the equipment of all geological prospecting enterprises that operated in the territory of the republic. The first year of the trust’s operation was the time of its organizational formation. Special attention was paid to scientific processing of the obtained information. For that purpose a Central Research Laboratory. Gradually the work of the trust got well in hand.

Unfortunately, its regular operation was broken by war. The autumn and winter of 1941 were extremely difficult for the Tatar oil prospectors, just like for the whole country. Neither machinery, nor people were prepared to work under extreme conditions. Many experienced geologists, engineers and drillers went to the war and could not be substituted adequately. Besides, a considerable part of machinery, especially the motor vehicles, was taken for the needs of the military. The working plan for hole making was frustrated.

On the one hand, the war became a new obstacle on the way of oil prospectors, but on the other hand, it made their work very topical. The issue of creation of the «second Baku» was very urgent.

Tatgeologorazvedka, together with scientists from the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, developed a plan of expedition-based examination for 1942 that was approved by the Tatar Regional Committee of the CPSU (b) and the government of the Tatar ASSR. The plan envisioned the identification of oil structures in the Bugulma, Almetyevsk, Tumutuk, Chistopol-Aksubayevo and some other districts. By that time, the analysis of the structures in the Pre-Volga area (Syukeyevo, Kamskoye Ustye) showed that they did not have signs of any significant presence of oil. At the same time, there began to shape the first area that had such signs – in the Southeast Trans-Kama region.

On 25 July 1943, the first oil was stuck from the depth of 648 m. at the Shugur rotary well No. 1 drilled by the crew of G. Khamidoullin. The yield of the well was first 8-10 and then 20 tonnes a day.

In its report to the Chairman of the State Defence Committee Joseph Stalin, the Tatar Regional Committee of the CPSU (b) informed of the discovery of a commercial field where «we obtained oil of good quality with daily yield of 20-30 tonnes». It was also mentioned that there were a number of other promising fields nearby (the Romashkinskoye, Shiganskoye, Minnibayevskoye, etc.). The Regional Committee requested the State Defence Committee to take a decision to organize commercial production of oil in the region starting from 1944.

The same year some 4,200 tonnes of oil were extracted from that field. That oil became the additional raw material, so much needed by the country.

At last, the Tatar oil that was a mirage for over three centuries that lured but did not let itself to be caught was found. The significance of that discovery can hardly be overestimated. The Shugur well produced not only the first oil gusher, but also the convincing proof of the rightfulness of many generations of geologists who were sure in the presence of oil in the Southeast Trans-Kama region. The Shugur field showed that the main oil-bearing layers were deposited in the Devonian sediments, which meant that the new oil reserves had to be sought in the southeast of Shugur, in the vicinity of Timyashevo village. That area became the place where the new wells were sunk to open the access to new main fields of the Tatar oil.