U.S. Shale Revolution and Prospects for Development of Unconventional Oil and Gas Resources in Russia

By Mikhail Tolkachev, Vladimir Tolkachev, November 4, 2013

Extraction of mineral resources is developing at a fast pace, having doubled during the last decade. This results in a depletion of the fields located in developed areas and areas where the geology is favorable. As a result, people ponder more and more the problem of long-term supply of fuel, energy and mineral stock.

The search for oil and gas fields, ore of black, non-ferrous and precious metals, diamonds, uranium, gold, and other raw materials, is occuring globally both onshore and offshore, and in ever more challenging geographic and climatic environments. The depths of open pit copper and gold strip mines in the United States have now reached 1,200 meters (Bingham Canyon); some mines are close to a depth of four kilometers (TauTona gold ore mine, South Africa); on the Kola Peninsula, in Russia, a super-deep vertical well has been drilled to a depth of 12,262 meters. Horizontal wells offshore Sakhalin are of lengths comparable with the Kola well. Oil and gas wells on the seabed are drilled through water several kilometers deep.

Ever increasing demand for mineral resources and new advances in science and technology now make it possible to develop new resources cost-efficiently whereas, in the past, such development was impossible. We call these new resources "unconventional". They include various types of fuel and energy resources – extra-heavy crude oil; bituminous rocks; methane in coal, methane dissolved in subsurface waters, occurring in gas-hydrate state; and also numerous types of solid commercial minerals and mineral waters. Among these are: ferromanganese concretions in the ocean (complex feedstock for production of manganese, iron, nickel, copper, cobalt, vanadium, chrome, titanium, molybdenum, etc.), marine phosphate rock concretions, non-kimberlite diamonds, vanadium-containing oils, bitumen having commercial content of titanium, zirconium, uranium, tin and gold placers of the shelf zone. There are also various types of salt brines and mineral neo-formations in deep faults on the sea bed, and many others.

Following the improvement of knowledge on the geological structure of the Earth, under the influence of demand and scientific and technological achievements, not only the amount of mineral resources involved into production, but their variety is increasing steadily every year. Vladimir Lenin* called attention to the objective character of this process and stated: “Not only the discovered sources of raw materials are important for the financial capital, but also potential sources, as nowadays the technology is developing at a great rate, and lands, which are unusable today, could become usable tomorrow, provided new techniques are found, and if high capital investments are made. The same refers to exploration of mineral resources, to new methods of processing and utilization of various raw materials, etc.” In application to oil and gas production, hydraulic fracturing of the productive bed became a new revolutionary method of oil and gas production stimulation.

Russia still possesses significant resources of oil, which amount approximately to one tenth of the world reserves. According to information of the Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology Sergei Donskoi, as of the beginning of 2012, oil