Russia targets shale oil boom by next decade

Thu May 22, 2014 8:50pm IST

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* Russia, the world's top oil producer, pumping near capacity

* Russia needs advanced technologies to sustain output

* Western firms cautious over new Russia investments

* Russia may turn east for drilling technologies

By Katya Golubkova

ST PETERSBURG, Russia, May 22 (Reuters) - Russia wants a boom in unconventional oil output by the start of the next decade, and is prepared to look east for technology if its ambitions are hindered by Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, Russian oil executives said.

Russia is now pumping near its capacity of around 10.5 million barrels of oil per day (bpd), with the bulk of production coming from depleted western Siberian deposits, highlighting an urgent need to look for new oil resources.

Some Western companies are refraining from new investment in Russia because of political tensions, potentially threatening Moscow's goal of keeping oil production at least stable in the coming years.

Moscow has over the last couple of years started to look more closely at unconventional oil prospects in a move to replicate the oil boom in the United States.

Last year the authorities introduced tax breaks to encourage investments into unconventional oil, including the Bazhenov formation in western Siberia, hoping the measures would boost the share of unconventional oil to 11 percent of the Russian total by 2020 from 0.2 percent now.

"Russia might not be in the middle of delivering a new shale revolution but for sure is at the start of it," Andrei Kuzyaev, Lukoil vice president, told an annual economic forum in St Petersburg, shunned by many global CEOs because of East-West tensions over Ukraine.

"Traditional reserves are depleting, there are some forecasts that production will decline... This all creates a stimulus for our country."

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates Russian recoverable shale oil resources at 75 billion barrels, more than the 58 billion barrels held by the United States, now the leader in shale oil production.

The 'revolution' Kuzyaev refers to could be hampered by Western sanctions on Moscow, limited for now but already preventing some companies from new investments in Russia - which needs advanced technology to explore for unconventional oil.

The Financial Times reported this month that the United States and the European Union could ban exports of modern technology and applications for use in the Russian oil sector, which would affect future oil production.

"Though this measure is only a possible option, we think it would affect primarily Arctic shelf projects and hard-to-recover oil projects where foreign technology is required the most," Alfa Bank said in a note at the time.

With Russia-West tensions high, Moscow has started to look closer to home for partnerships, and this week secured a $400-billion contract to supply natural gas to China.

Gennady Timchenko, President Vladimir Putin's key person for developing business ties with China, told reporters on Thursday that Russia could import technology from Beijing.

LOOKING FOR EXPERIENCE

In recent years, Russian oil companies such as Gazprom Neft, Rosneft and Lukoil have teamed up with international players such as ExxonMobil, Total , Statoil and Royal Dutch Shell to share costs and obtain the technology needed to explore for unconventional oil.

Lukoil's Kuzyaev estimated the cost of one horizontal well in Russia at $15-20 million, compared to around $3.5 million in the United States - a figure which dropped from around $8 million recently due to the highly competitive environment among drilling companies.

"With the help of our partners we are going to learn from all lessons," Eric Liron, Rosneft first vice-president for upstream, told the forum.

Moscow is 5-7 years behind the United States in terms of the technology needed to drill for unconventional oil, Alexander Dyukov, CEO of Russia's No.4 oil producer Gazprom Neft, said on Thursday.

"There is a gap but it is narrowing," Dyukov said.

Gazprom Neft is exploring for shale oil on its own and via two joint ventures with Royal Dutch Shell, including in the Bazhenov formation than extends across 2.3 million square kilometres (890,000 square miles).

Echoing Timchenko, Dyukov told reporters that Russia may look to domestic suppliers or those in Asia for drilling rigs, which may allow the pumping of another 1 million bpd by 2020-22 from the Bazhenov formation alone.

"To extract these volumes we need an additional 250-300 heavy drilling rigs... It could be domestic and Asian, Chinese drilling rigs," Dyukov said. (Reporting by Katya Golubkova)

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