Country Listing

Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union


After many years of occasionally spectacular growth, Soviet oil production began to level off in 1983, although the Soviet Union remained the world's largest oil producer. Since that time, Western experts have disagreed sharply about the amount and importance of production changes, especially because exact Soviet fuel reserve figures remained a state secret. It is known that at the end of the 1980s oil production did not increase significantly from year to year.

The Tyumen' reserves of western Siberia were a huge discovery of the 1960s that provided the bulk of oil production increases through the 1970s. By the end of that decade, Tyumen' had overtaken the Volga-Ural fields as the greatest Soviet oil region. The Volga-Ural fields had provided one-half the country's oil in the early 1970s but fell to a one-third share in 1977. By the mid-1980s, Tyumen' produced 60 percent of Soviet oil, but there was already evidence that Tyumen' was approaching peak production.

Meanwhile, new policies in the early 1980s accelerated drilling rates throughout the country, especially in western Siberia, but lower yields made this drilling expensive. By 1980 the older oil reserves were already being exhausted. Substantial untapped reserves were confirmed in the Caspian, Baltic, and Black seas and above the Arctic Circle, but all of them contained natural obstacles that made exploitation expensive. Soviet planners relied on the discovery of a major new field comparable to those in western Siberia. But by 1987 no major discovery had been made for twenty-two years. In the mid-1980s, Soviet oil exploration concentrated on the farther reaches of the Tyumen' and Tomsk oblasts (see Glossary), east of the established western Siberian fields. Offshore drilling was centered on the Caspian, Barents, and Baltic seas and the Sea of Okhotsk. Several shipyards were building offshore drilling platforms, the largest being the yards at Astrakhan' and Vyborg. Foreign shipyards also provided offshore drilling equipment. In 1984 the Soviet Union had eleven semisubmersible platforms in operation.

The Soviet oil-drilling industry has relied heavily on Western equipment for difficult extraction conditions, which become more common as existing reserves dry up. The average service life of a Soviet-made drilling rig was ten years, compared with fifteen or twenty for comparable Western equipment. Centers of Soviet drilling rig production were in Volgograd, Sverdlovsk, and Verkhnyaya Pyshma, about twenty kilometer north of Sverdlovsk.

Increased distance from well to consumer was also a major concern for the oil industry. Ninety percent of oil was transported by pipeline. The Soviet oil pipeline system doubled in length between 1970 and 1983, reaching 76,200 kilometers. Before 1960 the system totaled only 15,000 kilometers of pipe (see Pipelines , ch. 14). As oil production leveled off in the 1980s, so did pipeline construction. In 1986 the Soviet Union had 81,500 kilometers of pipeline for crude and refined oil products; in 1989 the number of kilometers remained the same.

The oil boom of the 1970s in western Siberia brought rapid growth of Soviet oil-refining centers. In 1983 most of the fiftythree refineries were west of the Urals. At least five new facilities were built between 1970 and 1985. Soviet refining equipment fell below Western standards for such higher-grade fuels as gasoline, so that high-octane fuels were scarce and heavier petroleum products were in surplus.

Data as of May 1989