Seek and you shall find

MT reporters investigate mineral rich Gomel Region of Belarus to discover scope of deposits of ‘black gold’

MT reporters investigate mineral rich Gomel Region of Belarus to discover scope of deposits of ‘black gold’

Profession of oil workers in Belarus is now one of the most prestigious

Pripyat flexure

The head geologist of the Mozyr oil investigating expedition of deep drilling, Alexander Suslenko, accompanied us in our investigations. Having been exploring oil deposits in Belarus for 40 years, he is an expert.

We left Minsk early in the morning and, after three hours, reached our destination. Alexander met us near the village of Chirkovichi (in the Svetlogorsk District) to show us well #51, on the Novo-Berezinskaya site. As he explained, we’d never find the way independently.

Geologists are working there at the moment, drilling an exploration well for Belorusneft. Driving along the country lanes, we notice several oil cranes in the fields. “It’s nothing extraordinary: this region — known as the Pripyat flexure — is rich in hydrocarbons, so cranes are everywhere. Another of our sites is the Western Zhukovichi exploration well, which is situated not far away. Oil has already been discovered at the site where I’m taking you but, at this Western Zhukovichi exploration well, drilling is in full swing,” Mr. Suslenko explains.

Oil has been extracted from the Pripyat flexure for a long time, so it hosts the most exploration works. “All the necessary infrastructure for oil exploration has been built here so there’s no need to invest a great deal, e.g. to build pipelines. Moreover, the area is rich in hydrocarbons. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t search for oil in the Brest or Vitebsk regions though,” adds Mr. Suslenko. He stresses that the Podlyassko-Brestkaya and Orshanskaya basins are viewed as oil promising, and that major exploration is planned. Next year, seismic specialists will launch exploration and, in a year or two, drill rigs might appear in these regions.

“Oil exploration is a long-term process. Initially, seismic specialists conduct studies and prepare a preliminary report on whether the necessary structures exist. Later, a sci-tech council decides whether to drill an exploration well, to collect samples of soil for thorough analysis. If the decision is positive, we start drilling up to 2.5-5m — depending on the revealed structure. This process isn’t cheap, costing around $1-1.5m. Accordingly, mistakes should be avoided! If we discover oil in two out of four wells it’s seen as economically feasible. In some years, every well drilled was a success,” Alexander tells us.

As we chat, we approach a drill rig, whose top is visible above the forest canopy.

Echelon drilling rig allows to drill around ten wells

Work for the determined

The territory where drilling is in full swing is surrounded by metre high earthen-works: an ‘obvalovka’ (to contain oil in case of a spill). The 53m drill rig sits centrally, with a ‘town’ on either side, of around two dozen trailers, containing living quarters and facilities: a canteen, a bath, a drying house and a foreman’s ‘office’.

On the day of our visit, the latter is occupied by the foreman’s assistant, Yevgeny Makarevich, whose turn it is to be on duty. Several days later, he’ll be replaced by the foreman himself, Valery Yatsukhno. Working independently, Yevgeny is overseeing the work of 30 people, who operate in shifts, with four days off after each four working days. Just 15 people work simultaneously. The foreman and his assistant monitor all aspects of drilling, ensuring that safety requirements are met, and that equipment is operated and maintained properly. Today, Yevgeny is working on the drill rig, so we have the chance to see how it operates. The workroom has several computers, each showing data from the rig.

Taking a short break, we ask Mr. Suslenko about Belarus’ distinguished oil deposits. He replies, “We’ve oil for around 30 years, relying on the pace of Belorusneft’s extraction, which is 1.6m tonnes annually.” The projection makes me anxious but he asserts, “When I came to Belarus after graduating from Lvov State University, volumes of distinguished reserves were also predicted at 30 years. Almost four decades have passed but our deposits are not yet exhausted, as we keep finding new ones.”

Exploratory drilling costs money and the expedition faces financial problems at present. In the past, Mozyr’s geologists drilled around 12,000-15,000 metres annually; this year, only 2,400 metres have been drilled so far.

“We’re currently working on just one well, in Western Zhukovichi. By the end of 2015, we plan to launch works at another site, not far from here and, if everything goes well, we’ll begin drilling a third well.”

After Yevgeny enters his office, we ask him to guide us around the site. On receiving our helmets, we go to the drilling site, where the working day is in full swing. It’s extremely noisy: the process never stops and the geologists are close to reaching their goal. The well is 1,170m deep and, according to studies, oil should be found at around 1,900m. Every day, drillers penetrate another 30-40 metres. “Actually, we aren’t mining but finding,” explains Mr. Suslenko. “We’re searching for oil, while Belorusneft is mining it. As soon as we reach the required depth, we pass the work on to its specialists.”

Everyone is busy at the site: workers are lubricating drill pipes, cleaning up the solution poured into the well and controlling the equipment. The chief driller has the most responsibility, since he controls the drilling process. He places a new chisel inside the drilling pole, within the equipment’s parameters. The process must not be stopped so the chief driller must stand near the drill throughout his shift of eight hours, regardless of the weather: burning sun or rain. Only his assistant can replace him.

Drillers experienced and young work shoulder to shoulder at the site. Vasily Kruglov admits that he’s been working for 46 years and has never thought of changing his profession. “I love this work. I’ve gotten used to it. I love nature and the site is surrounded by forests,” he muses.

After watching the drillers’ work, Yevgeny takes us to the upper decks of the drift. From a height of 30-40 metres, workers replace pipes. After just 25 metres, I’m tired and need to stop but Yevgeny is still climbing vigorously. “Not everyone can work in the drift,” he admits. “Those from cities tend not to stay long, as they need robust health and a real love of this work.”

As we’re about to depart, Mr. Suslenko assures us that Belarus will never be without oil since only 50 percent is ever extracted from a mine. “Nature, probably, leaves the rest to our grandchildren,” he concludes.

By Svetlana Mikhovich
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