FOR a long time Russian reserves of oil were thought by everyone to be abundant, but rather suddenly the picture changed. The U.S.S.R. no longer emphasizes her richness in oil, as she did a few years ago, but on the contrary seems to wish to emphasize her need of oil -- an emphasis which has been dramatized by recent events in northern Iran, centering about the Soviet demand for oil concessions there. What facts are ascertainable as to the extent of reserves of this precious mineral in the U.S.S.R.?
During the second half of the last century Russian oil production was the greatest in the world, and on the threshold of the twentieth century it still accounted for 50 to 51 percent of world production. The output of the United States amounted to approximately 41 percent of world production at that time.[i] Since then, the oil production of the world has increased enormously, and that of Russia has grown at a lesser rate; as a result, in 1940 the Russian output amounted to only one-sixth of the United States production, and barely 10 percent of the world total.
At the beginning of this century the Russian production of more than 10,000,000 tons came almost exclusively from the region around Baku, though a small amount came from the Grozny area of the northern Caucasus. During the next decade it decreased slightly (to 9,234,000 tons in 1913); and during the early years of the Revolution it diminished sharply. It began to rise again in 1922 and by 1927 it had surpassed the former high mark of 10,000,000 tons. The beginning of the policy of large-scale industrialization brought a rapid increase in oil production. Under the First Five Year Plan (1928-1932) it more than doubled and (including natural gas [ii]) amounted to 22,300,000 tons in 1932. However, this gain was to some extent achieved by a thorough utilization of oil fields which had been prepared for exploitation. Beginning with the Second Five Year Plan, the development of the oil industry slowed considerably.