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Section: History
Oil: Heroes of Our Past... and Present. Farman Salmanov: Let Love for Our Common Homeland, Russia, Unite Us

Oil: Heroes of Our Past... and Present. Farman Salmanov: Let Love for Our Common Homeland, Russia, Unite Us

Let us look at figures: more than 80 % of all explored Russian reserves of oil, natural gas, and coal is based in the Siberian region (including West Siberia and Yakutia). Now the share of Siberia is about 70 % in the production of oil, over 70 % in the production of coal, and more than 90 % in the production of gas! Unique Siberian reserves of most important natural energy carriers will remain Russia’s major sources of energy supply for many future decades.

Great hydrocarbon reserves in West and East Siberia were discovered in the second half of the past century with an active participation of scientists affiliated with the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (SB RAS). Moreover, these discoveries were predicted by Academicians I. M. Gubkin (for West Siberia) and A. Trofimuk and his colleagues (for East Siberia) speculatively, on the basis of theoretical projections and calculations.

It is even more surprising that the scientific predictions were realized very quickly, which was typical, perhaps, only of the Soviet epoch: in 1960, the first oil gusher spouted in West Siberia — and in the next ten years large industrial deposits whose production reached hundreds of millions of tons were discovered and developed. In this field, like in no other, a fundamental principle of the SB RAS, the so-called “Lavrentyev’s triangle” — close interrelation between science and practice — was realized

How schoolboy Farman decided to become a geologist

The Salmanov family lived in the village of Morul, Shamkhor region, Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). They had four children: the boys Farman, Mais, and Ilgar, and the girl Amura. The Azerbaijanian girl got her unusual name owing to her great-uncle Suleiman.

Early in his life, Suleiman Salmanov refused to give to the local mosque a part of the cattle belonging to his poor family, thereby breaking the religious custom. For this disobedience he was convicted for twenty years and sent in shackles to Siberia — actually, to the Far East — in 1888. During the exile Suleiman took part in the war between Russia and Japan, got several awards, and was released ahead of time. He returned home with a wife, a Siberian girl whose name was Olga.

Farman Kurban-ogly SALMANOV made a great contribution to the discovery and development of the West-Siberian oil-and-gas province. He was a bright and versatile personality combining the talents of a geologist, builder, scientist, and organizer of geological prospecting works.
Neither Russian nor world history knows any other geologist whose participation in the discovery of giant and large oil and gas deposits has been so efficient. In 1966 F. Salmanov was awarded the title of the Hero of Socialist Labor.
His other awards include the Order of the Red Banner of Labor in 1971 and 1976, the Order of the October Revolution in 1983, numerous medals, and the Lenin Prize in 1970. Farman Salmanov was an Honored Geologist of the Russian Republic of the USSR and, since 1991, a Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He was a Citizen of Honor of the city of Surgut, of the Khanty-Mansi and Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrugs (areas), of Texas, USA, and of the city of Jingzhou, People’s Republic of China.

Suleiman loved Siberia and told his grandchildren much about it. His granddaughter was called Amura — by the name of the great Siberian river. Incidentally, Amura became a linguist, just as her brother Ilgar; the middle brother Mais, who had a wonderful voice, became an opera singer and an Honored Artist of the Azerbaijan SSR.

The older brother Farman became a geologist and later — partly because he was impressed by his grandfather’s reminiscences — connected his life with Siberia.

In 1946, an event, very important for the future geologist, took place. People’s Commissar of Petroleum Industry N. K. Baibakov was a candidate from the Shamkhor Election District at the elections to the USSR Supreme Soviet. The lively ninth grader Farman was entrusted with passing on the mandate of Shamkhor people to the man known in the whole country: to asphalt the road leading to the school and to electrify the village. Baibakov talked with the boy he liked; when he learned that the boy wished to study at the Petroleum Institute, he said: “You’ve made the right choice, Farman. And if you need my help, you’ll have it!”

After leaving school, Salmanov worked for two years as a collector at the Shirvan Complex Geological Expedition. In 1949 he was enrolled in the Azerbaijan Industrial Institute for the specialty of geological engineer and oil industry worker. During the years of his study, he managed to come to Siberia three times for geological practical training.

How geologist Farman became a Siberian

After graduating from the Institute, geologist Farman Salmanov, on Baibakov’s recommendation, was sent to the trust Zapsibneftegeologiya in Novosibirsk. Farman Kurbanovich — this is what his Siberian colleagues called him — took part in oil and gas prospecting in Kuzbass; first he headed a bore-group, and then an expedition.

The young geologist took a keen interest in science. Practically everything was of interest to him: stratigraphy (the branch of geology studying successive formation of rocks and their initial spatial interrelations); tectonics (investigation of the Earth’s crust structure and of the processes occurring in it); genesis (the process of origination and formation) as well as conditions of formation of oil and gas deposits; the state of the world oil and gas reserves and parameters of their estimation. Later, his main professional interests included geological technologies: methods of prospecting for oil and gas deposits and their optimization; methods of development geophysics; and issues of seismic prospecting.

“In 1964, S. Goryunov, Minister of Geology of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, came to West Siberia. When Salmanov, with his inherent optimism, began speaking about the wealth of the Tyumen earth interior and about the need to increase deep boring, the Minister suddenly interrupted him:
— Stop dreaming!
Andrei Trofimuk’s response to the Minister was as harsh; he strongly supported the young geologist. Trofimuk often came back to this dialogue.” (“Glavnyi geolog”, 2002, p. 135)

By the mid-1950s, Soviet scientists had come to the conclusion that the search for oil and gas deposits in West Siberia had to be shifted to the North, that is, to the Middle Ob region and to the Nadym-Taz interfluve. Farman Salmanov proposed, several times, to stop the work in Kuzbass and to start thorough prospecting for oil in the Middle Ob region, in the Surgut or Lariak area. Finally, in the summer of 1958, it was decided to move the expedition from Kuzbass to Surgut.

F. Salmanov proved to be a wonderful organizer: he managed to rent barges, and by mid-September had moved his caravan along the Ob to Surgut. The people and equipment were brought there simultaneously. The settlement of geologists in Surgut was his first construction site. The conditions were hard: there was a lack of timber and of other materials, and winter was approaching. As a result, the settlement did not turn out to be very cozy, but by the winter people had got warm housing.

Salmanov was appointed head of the Surgut Oil Prospecting Expedition, and I. Gorsky was its chief engineer: they both were younger than 30.

The autumn of 1961 brought first discoveries. West Siberia produced mighty oil gushers: first the Megion, and then the Ust’-Balyk oil deposits were detected. It was clear that a new large oil and gas province had appeared in the country. The next year F. Salmanov was appointed chief geologist of the Ust’-Balyk Oil Prospecting Expedition; several years later, after the discovery of the Salym deposit, he asked permission to work in new regions under development. This is how he became head of the legendary Pravdinskaya Oil Prospecting Expedition.

More than 15 deposits were discovered in the period of F. Salmanov’s work in the Surgut, Ust’-Balyk, and Pravdinskaya expeditions.

How head of the expedition Salmanov built Gornopravdinsk

The place chosen by F. Salmanov for the future settlement of geologists was located on the high bank of the Irtysh river. The first large deposit discovered in the region under his leadership got the name Pravdinskoye; therefore, the new settlement of geologists was called Gornopravdinsk.

In creating this settlement, F. Salmanov used the experience he had gained from living in geologists’ settlements. Gornopravdinsk was built on the basis of a unified design. Private construction, which contradicted the thoroughly elaborated detailed plan and was not in harmony with the other constructions, was not allowed. Houses looked like toys: beautiful and multicolored. Trees were preserved, and the settlement was riotous with flowers. The locals joked: “Don’t you dare to pick a flower. You’ll have to deal with Salmanov himself!”

“Presentation of F. Salmanov’s thesis took place on January 8, 1968 [at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Siberian Branch of USSR Academy of Sciences]. A. Trofimuk and I were opponents. F. Salmanov — a discoverer of large oil in West Siberia, a talented geologist, a legendary person already at that time, and the Hero of Socialist Labor — was wearing the Gold Star of the Hero. A. Trofimuk looked at him, went to his study, and returned several minutes later with the a simular Star. As far as I remember and as far as I know, this was the only case at the Institute when the oral examination of an “ordinary” candidate’s thesis was filmed simultaneously by two, Sverdlovsk and Azerbaijan, studios. This was a session of heated debates, and interesting and constructive discussions.” (Glavnyi geolog, 2002, p. 135)

Gornopravdinsk was a wonderful settlement for its time. Its shops and the diner were regularly supplied with vegetables and fruit, which was quite rare for the North, especially in winter. A kindergarten, a small zoo, a club with a big hall, and even — which was most unexpected! — a TV centre, were constructed. By that time, first satellites had already been launched, but there was no space television, and television in the North was certainly out of the question. F. Salmanov constructed a TV tower from an oilrig and bought the necessary equipment. Twice a week a helicopter brought records of new programs from Sverdlovsk. This was the first Siberian oil prospecting expedition with TV sets in homes.

Gornopravdinsk became a town in which important geological meetings took place; it was visited by many leaders of our country, eminent scientists, cosmonauts, and famous artists.

Today, Gornopravdinsk would be called a “pilot project”: later the experience of this oil prospecting expedition was used by many leaders, oilmen, and gasmen to construct cities and settlements.

How Doctor of Sciences Salmanov helped discover 300 deposits

Apart from being a talented practician and organizer, F. Salmanov was an outstanding scientist. In the mid-1960s, he published a number of articles that revealed the first information about the new giant oil and gas province. (On the whole, Salmanov wrote more than 100 articles and several monographs, some of them co-authored with other scientists). At the beginning of 1968 he defended a candidate thesis, and four years later, a doctoral thesis.

In 1970, Salmanov’s “Gornopravdinsk” period of life elapsed; he was sent to Tyumen and appointed Chief Oil and Gas Geologist of the Chief Tyumen Geology Department (Glavtyumengeologiya). Nine years later he was appointed head of the Chief Directorate. At that time in the Tyumen region, they bored 410,000—415,000 meters of prospecting wells annually. During the following 19 years of Salmanov’s work in this region, boring reached 2,800,000 meters, that is, it increased almost by a factor of 7!

When F. Salmanov was Chief Geologist of Glavtyumengeologiya, 77 deposits were discovered; and during his office as Head of the Chief Directorate another 216 deposits were found. In 1987—1989 geologists of the Tyumen region detected annually 30—40 oil and gas deposits. The world history of geology knows no other geologist who has achieved such success and with whose participation so many large deposits have been discovered.

There was a simultaneous increase in explored oil and gas reserves. From 1960 to 1969 the increase in oil reserves constituted 3.5 billion tons, and in gas reserves, 5.0 trillion m3; in the two subsequent decades the increase constituted more than 8 billion tons of oil and more than 17 trillion m3 of gas.

F. Salmanov was exceptionally good at grasping the situation — whether the case in point was boring or testing a single well; a prospecting plan of a large deposit; or a work plan of an expedition, an association, or of the Chief Directorate. His ability to make the only right decision was truly amazing. It is the oil and gas reserves found with his participation that allowed our country to survive the crisis of the 1990s.

How Salmanov, First Deputy of the Geology Minister, was developing the country’s oil and gas complex

In 1987 F. Salmanov was transferred to Moscow and appointed First Deputy of the USSR Minister of Geology; he held this post till 1992. His rich experience, knowledge of the geological structure of various regions, theoretical background, and versatile research interests played an important role in the development of the country’s oil and gas complex. However, at the end of his life F. Salmanov often said that it was the greatest mistake in his life — to agree to leavw Tyumen for Moscow.

In the last 15 years of his life, F. Salmanov focused his attention on the situation in geological prospecting and on Russia‘s oil and gas complex. In his articles published in this period he offered possible ways out of the crisis.

“All my life I’ve been trying to help people live better and become more affluent, think on their own, live on their own, and live not only for their daily bread. Each step on this way was hard for me, but I did not turn off the way chosen, did not try to avoid difficulties, because I felt I was right and felt the support of the people”, wrote F. Salmanov in his last book I am a Politician.

When Farman Kurbanovich was writing this book, which was to be published by his 75th birthday, he was seriously ill and realized this. Nevertheless, the book turned out to be bright and optimistic. Being, in essence, F. Salmanov’s will, it ends with the following heartfelt words:

“Let us be united by love for our common homeland — great Russia — and by concern over its better future, and sincere desire to do all we can to make this future happen as soon as possible.”


Glavnyi geolog. — Novosibirsk, 2002.

Salmanov F. K. I am a Politician: Thoughts of a Creator of the Country‘s Fuel and Energy Might. — M.: RTK-Region, 2006.

Trofimuk A. A. Forty years of boring for the development of oil and gas industry of Siberia. — Novosibirsk, 1997.

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