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Contemporary human civilization relies on hydrocarbon fuel deposits by and large which keep dwindling because of extensive consumption, especially what concerns petroleum and natural gas. Huge hydrocarbon resources, however, are still being used on a rather low scale under the shallow waters of the outer continental shelf as deep as 200 meters. In its structure and composition the earth's crust here is more of the continental rather than the oceanic type, with the sedimentary rock layer being much thicker.
Small wonder that this bonanza beckons explorers, industrialists, financiers and statesmen. The proved and inferred (indicated) resources of Russia's continental shelf hold pride of place.* This is the subject of a substantive article published in the Russian-language journal Priroda (Nature) by Acad. Anatoly Dmitriyevsky and RAS Corresponding Member Mikhail Belonin under the title "Outlook for the Development
* See: N. Bogdanov, "Russia's Shelf, Its Riches", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2003. - Ed.
of Oil and Gas Resources of the Russian Shelf.
The wealth buried in this country's continental shelf is awesome in sheer numbers alone: this is as much as 100 bn tons of equivalent fuel alone, including 16.7 bn tons of petroleum and gas condensate, 78.8 thousand bn cubic meters of combustible gas-all that making up 20 to 25 percent of the world's overall reserve.*
Today Russia boasts of 16 large oil-and-gas provinces and basins offshore. First and foremost, these are deposits of the Western Arctic: in the Barents, Pechora and Kara seas; coming next, in descending order, are reserves of the Sea of Okhotsk, the East Siberian and the Caspian seas. "As of the years 2010 - 2015," the authors of the article say, "ever new offshore deposits might be discovered to add to the nation's available reserve. In the Barents Sea they may be associated with Paleozoic and Triassic traps on the edges of the East Barents depression, the North Barents basin, Franz Joseph Land and near the islands of Novaya Zemlya. The Kara Sea, too, may be oil-rich due to Jurassic-Cretaceous and older deposits. There are good prospects for the southern part of the Laptev Sea, the central part of the East Siberian and Chuckchee seas. Thus the total gain in geological resources may range from 30 to 45 bn tons of equivalent fuel."
An impressive figure, of course. But how well are these regions explored? At first sight, the amount of the prospecting work done is quite good: about 1,000,000 linear kilometers of seismic profiles, with as much as 5.7 thous. km2 covered by seismic exploration. As many as 178 wells sunk to a total depth of 440 km. As a result, 32 deposits have been opened, including the giant ones, such as the Stockmann, Rusanovo and Leningradskoye in the Western Arctic, and several large ones in the Pechora Sea** and in the northwest of Sakhalin's shelf.
However, the total area of this country's continental shelf is 6.2 mn km2 , with as much as two-thirds promising to be oil - and gas-rich. Boundless expanses yet to be explored! As the authors, A. Dmitriyevsky and M. Belonin, continue: "The outer shelf has been explored rather haphazardly: along with the well-explored (or explored well enough) sectors of the Baltic and southern part of the Barents Sea, there are still extensive tracts of the Arctic shelf (northern regions of the Barents and Kara seas, the Laptev, East Siberian and Chuckchee seas) surveyed but poorly-from Taimyr to the US-Russia border thousands of miles to the east... not one well has been sunk."
Consequently, a major part of the Arctic and Far Eastern shallow waters has not been studied sufficiently well to enable watertight forecasting.*** The exploration and development of these offshore areas within the next 10 years is hardly feasible, what with the absence of a proper infrastructure and enormous distances from the nation's industrial centers. Geological prospecting in these outlying areas poses immense difficulties.
Now, to transport hydrocarbon fuel mined offshore, we should make the best of the operating facilities and those slated for construction-pipelines, pumping stations and the like. Associated with the northwestern federal region are the mining areas in the Pechora Sea and in the southern part of the Barents Sea.
The Northern Sea Route should also be used for the transportation of oil and probably liquefied gas as well. This route "will make it possible to deliver hydrocarbon raw material to the markets of Western Europe and the United States, and to countries of the Asia-Pacific Region. Large tank ships and methane-carriers capable of navigating in ice floes will be of much importance."
Should major deposits of gas be discovered in the south of the Laptev Sea, this region could be hooked to the gas pipelines of the northern part of West Siberia. And should such deposits be all too large, a new pipeline could be added to the operating one in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) to take fuel to the Russian Far East and elsewhere, to Asia in particular.
The gas mined in the northeastern part of Sakhalin will be pumped south and then carried to the markets of the Asia-Pacific Region.
There are good prospects for building an oil-and-gas complex to cater to the Laptev Sea offshore mining industry. It will satisfy the local rather limited requirements and could be joined to the projected network of pipelines reaching as far as China and the Sea of Japan. Petroleum products could be exported to the United States via the Northern Sea Route.
In a nutshell, our explored and indicated reserves of hydrocarbon fuel are fantastic indeed. It's just a matter of much work and outlay. In this century the Russian Federation will certainly have to draw on the continental shelves for boosting its fuel industry potential. This will spur work toward the comprehensive exploration and development of our northern and Far Eastern areas-rich not only in oil and natural gas.
Priroda (Nature), No. 9, 2004
Prepared by Rudolf BALANDIN
* See: Gramberg et al., "Continental Shelf: Russia's Last Fuel-and-Power Reserve", Science in Russia, No. 1, 1998. - Ed.
** See: Ye. Velikhov et al., "Gas, Oil and Ice", Science in Russia, No. 3, 1994. - Ed.
*** See: S. Golubchikov, "Arctic Shelf-Russia's Major Reserve", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2000. - Ed.
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