Further to our Central Europe analysis this month and ahead of our focus on the CIS gas markets next month, we provide an analysis of an altogether different kind. Here, we explore the prospects of hydrocarbon exploration in Russia, courtesy of SPC Geoneftegaz’s Vadim Chernov.

With the emphasis very much on Eastern Europe of late, in the run-up to gasworld’s East Europe Conference 2010 next month (21st & 22nd May), it’s an ideal time to explore the region’s potential – in more ways than one. Industrial gas prospects are one thing, and the often linked hydrocarbon potential is quite another.

Derived from its analysis of materials in the southern Trans Urals, SPC Geoneftegaz encourages participation in the oil field development projects of the Kurgan region.

We all understand that hydrocarbons are one of the strategically important elements in our lives, and that their output often determines the course of economies, the environment and energy. But is it more environmentally friendly and energy efficient to produce hydrocarbons on land or by sea?

And with more capital support and less political restrictions, could modern hydrocarbon exploration be even more advantageous?

Valeryanovskaya suture & hydrocarbons promise
In a previous article published elsewhere by SPC Geoneftegaz, the company discussed the prospects to be found at the granites and gneisses complex of the Kurgan region’s subsoil.

Continuing that theme, oil & gas prospects have been identified belonging to the island arc (see boxout) of the southern Trans Urals – similar to the ‘White Tiger’ deposit of Vietnam.

Passing through the city of Pechora and Khanty-Mansiysk (an oil boom town in Russia) and ending in northern Kazakhstan, where it is known as the Valeryanovskaya suture, this particular island arc is seen as particularly promising from an oil & gas perspective. For SPC Geoneftegaz, this is just one example of the latent hydrocarbons potential to be explored in the region.

But what is to be gained from such sources? What is known already by the large oil & gas companies?

In short, one answer would be serious profitability. Crossing the rivers Tobol and Ob for example, east of Khanty-Mansiysk and west of Surgut, lies the Salym group of petroleum fields which also lay on the island arc and are jointly owned by Shell and the Salym Petroleum Development company.

The development of the Salym fields has allowed for bountiful discharge from the wells and, in turn, serious profit. So much so, that the major oil & gas companies are thought to be keen to stay abreast of the prospects of the area’s basement rocks.

Formation in the rear island arc zone
Before tackling any hydrocarbon deposits in the island arc in question, it is of course important to understand the ‘mechanisms’ of the basin itself.

In the formation of the secondary spreading basin, there are two mechanisms that can be termed ‘hot’ and ‘cold’. A hot mechanism is formed when magma is introduced into cracks and voids in the faults and quickly hardens under the action of sea water filling the space.

The transfer of heat from the magma creates thermal convection in a porous space, which leads to the leaching of granite masses. Such processes are accompanied by breaking strains and sometimes uneven movements of individual crustal blocks, or friction in the fracture. Uneven movements lead to expansion in the cavern, which is replaced by contraction, cold fluids (cyclically) – hence the term, cold mechanism.

Following the upward flow of mantle material by the sinking plate, a flow which stretches across the ocean crust and creates tension, the oceanic crust can become saturated with hot fluids containing silicate solutions and these produce granitisation of basaltic and andesitic rocks.

Existing granite under the influence of these fluids is leached and becomes porous – to be saturated by further hydrocarbons and eventually overlaid by sedimentary rocks from the top, therefore creating the conditions for the formation of oil deposits.

Vietnam shelf deposits – A case study
The Vietsovpetro and Zarubezhneft oilfields were discovered in Vietnam in the 1980s, named the so-called White Tiger oil fields and boasting more than 50 wells, with a discharge of up to 1000 tonnes per day (tpd) of oil.

This array is an island arc formation and the result of secondary spreading – a perfect case study then. These island arcs are on dry land, buried under clays, sandstones and general sedimentary cover, providing the perfect conditions for hydrocarbons to emerge from he depths of the Earth and accumulate in the basement rocks.

Although the White Tiger is an especially wealthy example, maps of modern hydrothermal activity in the vicinity of Surgut have depicted output rich in organic matter. Coinciding with the map of the West Siberian oil & gas province, including the Karyaunskoe and Vachimskoe gas fields, this hints at a healthy hydrocarbons resource.

The St. Michael’s wells are the deepest in the Kurgan region, with depths of 2400 metres and 2450 metres respectively.

Geological map of Russia
Studying a map of the Arctic Ocean and Lomonosov & Mendeleev ridges, as well as the West Siberian petroleum province and the island arc in the Pechora area, and the alignment & interconnection of these geological elements is apparent.

While the map of the Timan-Pechora oil province shows less deposits than those available in Western Siberia, this so-called Kolva shaft also appears to be an island arc formation and therefore, demonstrates a healthy breeding ground for hydrocarbons.

In the opinion of this author, the open fields of Usinskoe, the Pechora region and Western Siberia, all of which converge on the island arc as seen on the geological map of 1983, offer much potential. As well as proving to be interconnected, the fields of this particular island arc are where future discoveries – and prosperity – could well
be found.