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On April 21, 1931, the VSNKh passed a resolution, “On the Development of a Fuel Base in the Northern Territory,” which proposed that the Ukhta Expedition considerably expand its exploration operations for crude. The People’s Commissariat for Water Transportation was instructed to provide support for expedition cargo shipments and to reinforce the Pechora river fleet, while the People’s Commissariat for Railroads was instructed to cover the prepared section of the Ust–Vym–Ukhta road with gravel during the summer season of 1931. The decree also called for the construction of three to four exploratory mines near Vorkuta and the Adzva (a tributary of the Usa River) and for the production of at least 7,700 tons of coal.

In summer 1931, the OGPU’s Ukhta Expedition was transformed into the Ukhta-Pechora Correctional Labor Camp, and OGPU Senior Major Yakov Moroz was appointed its director. Five territorial camp divisions were created: Chibyu, Vodnin, Verkhne-Izhma, Pechora, and Usa (the center was the village of Ust-Usa, which would shift later to Vorkuta). Each camp division was comprised of several sites “filled” to varying extent—from several hundred to several thousand prisoners—and had its own director, office building, registration and distribution department, accounting department, commandant’s office, mess hall, food and clothing storerooms, medical unit with dispensary, hospital (about 20 beds), cultural and education center, mandatory isolation cell for punishment, and camp investigative unit.

The central management structure of the Ukhta-Pechora camp also began to expand at the same time. The prisoner personnel center turned into the registration and distribution department and other divisions were also set up, including a civilian personnel department, a special department, an encoding bureau, a general accounting office, a medical department, a cultural and educational department, a central isolation cell for punishment, an OGPU operations department, a central hospital at Vetlosyan, a separate paramilitary security service unit, a camp prosecutor’s office, and a camp court.

On November 16, 1932, the USSR Labor and Defense Council passed a resolution, “On the Organization of the Ukhta-Pechora Trust,” charging the trust with “exploring and developing subsurface resources of commercial value in the Pechora Basin and all auxiliary work related to it; building railroads and dirt roads; constructing housing and cultural institutions; and building repair plants to support existing and future mines, oil fields and river shipbuilding.... The OGPU is charged with the trust’s management.” OGPU officials immediately approved the Charter of the State Ukhta-Pechora Trust, with detailed regulations for its extensive production activities.

The first preparatory stage of the Timan-Pechora region’s industrial development had been completed. The village of Chibyu had been built in the area where the Chibyu Creek meets the Ukhta River and was surrounded by a large number of camp sites that previously had provided labor for the construction of industrial and housing facilities. In a relatively short time, the prisoners had built a power station, a machinery and repair plant, and a refinery, which at the time consisted of an atmospheric tube installation and bitumen production equipment. In addition, minable radium deposits were also discovered near the Chut River during the search for crude. A field was set up to extract the radioactive water and a concentrate plant was built to recover radium via a complex chemical process.

The First Permian Oil

During this period of accelerated industrialization, systematic geologic exploration for crude oil was carried out for the first time in several promising regions of the country in response to instructions from Soviet Party leadership.

In early May 1929, the VSNKh Presidium declared it necessary “to perform an extensive search for new oil fields” and “to draw up a plan for the broad survey of the Urals to search for oil and gas fields.” The Uralneft state trust of the Ural oil industry was set up not long after this declaration. News from Perm about the discovery of the first oil field in the Urals had a major impact on the decisions passed by VSNKh officials.

The trailblazer of the Perm oil rush was mining engineer Pavel Preobrazhensky (1874–1944), a former Omsk government minister under [White Army leader] Admiral Kolchak, who fell into the hands of the Bolshevik tribunal and only just managed to avoid being shot as the result of a personal appeal made by writer Maxim Gorky to Lenin. Preobrazhensky’s death sentence was commuted to exile in Perm, where he began working as a geology professor at Perm University. Shortly thereafter, the Geologic Committee’s Ural Division asked him to research the archives of the former owners of Perm mining and salt plants, a group that included the businessmen Stroganov, Lazarev, and Ryazantsev, among others. In the archives, he found reference to a local pharmacist who, at the request of a technician from one of Nikolay Ryazantsev’s plants in Solikamsk, analyzed samples of yellow salt with bright red streaks in 1910 and discovered a considerable amount of potassium in them. Professor Preobrazhensky also studied samples of rock taken during the drilling of several brine wells and discovered samples of pink salt while examining the salt collection at the Berezniki Soda Plant, where several boreholes had been drilled. Reports from 1916 indicated that samples from the Lyudmilinskaya brine well had included sylvinite (KCl + NaCl). In addition, a 1918 analysis of brine from a Solikamsk plant revealed slightly elevated potassium content in several samples from the salt mines at Solikamsk and Usolye. Preobrazhensky also noticed that the Perm salt had a slight light-blue and yellow tint and a bitter taste. All of these factors gave him reason to conclude that this region had prospects for potassium. Based on an analysis of the materials he had collected, as well as the research of well-known scientist Nikolay Kurnakov (1860– 1941), Preobrazhensky presented a report to the Geologic Committee’s Ural Division on the Solikamsk region’s prospects for potassium salts and proposed a plan for exploration drilling.

Soviet agriculture was in dire need of vast amounts of potash fertilizers at the time and had been relying on imports from Germany, and so the Geologic Committee as well as the VSNKh paid close attention to Professor Preobrazhensky’s report and were very hopeful about reported prospects. That same year, Preobrazhensky was promoted to the position of senior geologist in the nonmetallic minerals exploration department of the Geologic Committee’s Leningrad Division.

On the basis of his preliminary work in the Kama River Valley and with the Geologic Committee’s permission, Preobrazhensky began planning and preparing an expedition. Even in those difficult times, sufficient funds were found to organize a geologic expedition to prospect for potassium in the Solikamsk region. The professor decided to conduct exploratory drilling near the former salt mines and began prospecting in spring 1925. He managed to acquire a Calyx drilling rig, brought in a mobile steam power plant from Leningrad, and transported the required drilling equipment and tools from the Caucasus and Urals. One of his major challenges was determining where to drill the first well. After analyzing all the geologic data, Preobrazhensky selected an area just outside the city of Solikamsk, on the shore of the Usolki Creek, which fed into the Kama River. Drilling of the first well began in early September 1925. On the night of October 5, the well hit a thick mass of potassium salt (secondary sylvinite with KCl content of 17.9%) at a depth of 301–303 feet. Well 2, which was located about a mile to the west, revealed a potassium deposit more than 360 feet thick. Thereafter, large potassium deposits were discovered in all the wells drilled in 1926, eventually culminating in the opening of the famed Verkhnekamsk potassium salt field. Preobrazhensky later said that drilling produced “stunning results.” The 19 wells drilled in Solikamsk and Berezniki all revealed thick layers of carnallite and sylvinite.



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