Ugra's oil potential. The region remains a treasure trove of hydrocarbons in Russia.

Today the Russian fuel and energy complex is facing many challenges, including a decline in the price of oil and the deteriorating structure of hydrocarbon reserves. In recent years the production of black gold in Yugra has been steadily decreasing, and the future is associated with hard-to-recover reserves. But will their development be profitable and will our reserves ever run out? These questions were answered by Alexander Shpilman, Director of the V.I. Shpilman Scientific and Analytical Center for Rational Subsoil Use.

- Alexander Vladimirovich, do you think the scope of geological exploration today is sufficient?
- If we talk about Russia as a whole, the rate of exploration is extremely insufficient. We have areas that are very poorly explored, such as the northern seas, Eastern Siberia, the Far East, including the north of Western Siberia. Even in the district, there are places that are poorly explored. For example, the area of the Karabash oil and gas bearing region, the Yugansk Depression. There are quite a lot of such places. We, geologists, assume that these areas are oil and gas-bearing. Accordingly, we would like to conduct more searches.
Let me make a distinction between prospecting and exploration. During prospecting new fields are discovered. Exploration clarifies the reserves of the old ones. In my opinion, paradoxically enough, at the moment the situation is such that the amount of exploration is sufficient.
- How so?
- The oil companies themselves determine the exploration volumes. At what pace they plan to introduce reserves, they prepare themselves. When we say, "It would be good to prepare more reserves," the question arises: who needs it? The official to report to? Just to be happy with the numbers? It's strange, because if we're talking about exploration and production security, companies will prepare as many reserves for development as they need.
But the search, in my opinion, is extremely insufficient. We are not discovering enough. I sometimes hear people say, "We've run out of everything. This is nonsense. Practice shows that this is a strange attitude. Because one of the largest fields, with reserves of more than 50 million tons (Aurinskoye field), discovered quite recently in the very west of the Okrug, showed brilliant prospects for oil production in these areas. The Aurinskoye field was one of the ten largest discoveries in the world during the year.
I've spent many years calculating the potential resources that lie beneath. And I will say that the potential is still enormous, many billions of dollars. You can argue about how many billions, but the resources are there. If we invest in prospecting, I'm sure there will be discoveries.
However, risky prospecting is not very interesting for big companies. For them, already discovered deposits are more attractive. They are happy to go out to auctions. This is proven by the results - almost all the fields in Yugra are in demand.
- Why shouldn't the state undertake such prospecting, if it is in its interests?
- Only lazy geologists don't talk about it. I myself spoke from all the tribunes. This activity is very profitable for the state, because the deposits will be given to the companies for money. The costs will be repaid over time. Plus more taxes on future production. But the idea runs into some problems in the legislation of budget financing. For some reason it is not recognized as correct - let the companies themselves lead the search. And they do it (the same Aurinskoye field discovered by the company), but the pace is slow.
- How profitable is it to produce "difficult" oil, taking into account the decrease of the price? Does the Bazhenov formation have any prospects?
- One should understand that the profitability of development in our region is mainly connected with the taxation system. When we approached the Bazhenov formation the state decided to nullify the tax. Under these conditions, development becomes profitable. After all, the price did not drop to $10 - it dropped from $100 to $50.
The second thing is that for oil shale (as the US experience shows) the more wells are drilled, the cheaper they become. While single wells are being drilled in the county, the work is just unfolding. Several large companies have entered the Bazhenov deposits. For example, now there is a primary agreement with Gazprom Neft at the level of the governor to create a technology development center. We get involved in the process through laboratories in the core storage facility, and we outline a joint program with the company. The first polygon, where these technologies will be tested, has been allocated - the Palyanovsky area.
- So far we are talking only about pilot projects. How long will it take to switch from pilot sites to mass production of "difficult" oil?
- I think the "pilots" will take another 3-5 years. Everyone is engaged in the Bazhenov formation at the moment. Some are performing seismic surveys and detailing the structural plan, some are drilling wells. The fact is that the technology of development is quite complicated. It is necessary to drill horizontal wells and trigger numerous branched fractures by means of hydraulic fracturing. The technology itself has been in use for a long time. But if you create a fracture in the sandstone and put fine sand (proppant) in it, it will not collapse and oil will flow. Shales are mostly clay fractions. They swell from the liquid. It is necessary to pick up special compositions, proppant. If the clay particles do not close the fracture, there will be a decent flow rate. The oil is there, the problem is in extracting it.
We understand that all the research is yet to come. How much have they achieved in America? Six to eight percent of the ORF (oil recovery factor). Can you imagine how pathetic it is to leave 94% in the rock? Anyone who proposes 12% would be considered a genius technologist.
That is why landfills are so important.
- Do we have such developments? Or it is easier to look for "easier" oil?
- We will not find "easier" oil. Good reservoirs are already known, and it is unlikely that others will be found in our region. They can be found somewhere in the Kara Sea. But we have billions of reserves in hard-to-recover rocks. It's not just one bajillion. The district (all companies) extracts about 20 million tons from the Tyumen formation. And these are also hard-to-recover reserves - there are very clayed rocks, which are extremely difficult to develop. In 2000 only 2 million tons were extracted here, the situation was similar to the current situation with Bazhen. Another 20 million tons are extracted from the Achimov formation, which has a complicated geological structure (this is why they do not always want to develop it). With our volumes, it seems that this is not much. But the total production is made of such 20 million tons.
Speaking about technologies, let me remind you about our core storage facility. About 250 thousand meters of core from the whole Okrug is stored there now. From different depths, from different wells. What we're doing is we're stepping up our research on it all the time. To figure out how to get the oil to move, we have to first try to do it on such small pieces. Special units simulate the necessary conditions - recreate the reservoir pressure, the temperature. Then you can see how the fluid moves in the rock. If you can squeeze the oil through the core, you can figure out how to pump it out of the well. So I believe that one of the most important things is to develop work related to core studies.
- To summarize, what recent exploration events do you think have been the most important?
- This is, of course, the discovery of a field such as Aurinskoye. On the administrative level, several significant decisions were made. For example, now even if one company enters an auction, it can purchase a prospect - this is a good incentive to participate in exploration. They allowed the tributaries of the marginal parts of deposits - if the land is not occupied, it can be given to the company.
In the field of state management it was decided to make geological information more open (including access to core and core information). It is certainly important that work has started at the Bazhenov polygon.
In general, there are a lot of significant events in the country. For example, production increased in the Orenburg region, where the old fields began to be brought into production. In Yugra we have not reached that stage yet. First of all, we have a lot of oil in large fields. Secondly, there are different conditions here - small fields, of which there are hundreds, are less profitable. In the conditions of the region they already require some benefits. So far these proposals are being considered. But the sooner such laws are adopted, the better. Small fields should be introduced while large fields are being developed, and everything is nearby.