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The Natural gas industry of the U.S.S.R. Dienes, Leslie

Abstract

The last few years have witnessed momentous decisions in Soviet fuel policy. After long neglect, a sudden and all out priority was given to the production of petroleum and natural gas, and the creation of a massive petrochemical industry was ordered. The official support and the economically more rational climate of the post-Stalin decade proved a tremendous "boon to the gas, oil and petrochemical industries. In composition the fuel structure of the USSR is fast approaching that of the United States, and the petrochemical build-up— though younger— is also vigorous. The new fuel policy has already put its mark on the map of the country, but the full impact is yet to come. The Soviet energy picture, therefore, is in a state of flux and furious development, and the same goes for the chemical industry. The new fuels have not yet had time to create a crystallized and mature geographic pattern, as in the United States, but such a pattern is in emergence and can now be examined. This paper deals with the position of natural gas in the new Soviet fuel geography and, in addition, considers it’s contribution to the emerging petrochemical industry of the USSR. Since the early fifties the natural gas industry, which was completely undeveloped throughout the Stalin era, experienced a growth, the rate of which exceeded all other branches of the fuel industry of the USSR. Contributing less than one-fortieth to the fuel mix as late as 1955, its share has grown to an eighth in 1963 and is close to a sixth today. The Soviet Union is thought to have far greater resources of gas than any other country in the world but its fully proved reserves are still only a quarter of those of the United States. Over eighty percent of production today comes from only three regions, all in European Russia, yet the areal discordance between production centers and the major consuming areas is quite considerable. With one or two exceptions, the industrial centers of the country have no output on their own and generally are located far from supplying fields. This areal discordance and, consequently, the large-scale transport of natural gas over great distances are increasing, as the immense reserves, believed to exist south and east of the Urals, are proved and brought into production. The amount consumed, the share of gas in the fuel mix, and the sectorial distribution of consumption differ greatly in each economic region. However, the share of industry (the generation of electricity included) everywhere predominates, and far more heavily than in the United States. Variations in the amount consumed and the manner of utilization lend a distinctness of character to the gas industry in each Soviet region. Nevertheless, similarities in certain areas are great enough to permit regional groupings. The essay consists of two main parts: a general and a regional. In Part I the evolution of Soviet fuel policy, the production of, and markets for, natural gas, the characteristics of Soviet reserves and, finally, the Russian pipeline network are considered. Part II examines the principal regions where gas is produced and is utilized, attempts an integrated treatment of the role of gas in the regional economy, and analyses interregional variations. Because the research done so far on that very young industry usually treats it on a national plane, the analysis of regional profile, attempted in Part II, is considered to be the major contribution of this paper.

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