(EnergyAsia, January 25 2013, Friday) — After reaching a post-Soviet record last year, Russian oil production will probably peak in the next few years as the gains from new oil fields are offset by falling output from brownfield sites, said US ratings agency Fitch. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

According to the Ministry of Energy, Russia’s total crude oil production increased by 1.3% in 2012 to 518 million tons, up from a low of 303 million tons in 1996. The country’s refining throughput rose 4.5% to 266 million tons while exports fell 1% to 239 million tons.

To sustain crude oil production increases, Russia would need to significantly invest in new exploration, in particular on its continental shelf, over many years.

The production gains that Russia achieved over the last decade were mainly driven by intensive application of new technology, in particular horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing applied to Western Siberian brownfields on a massive scale, said Fitch.

This allowed oil companies to tap previously unreachable reservoirs and dramatically reverse declining production rates at these fields, some of which have been producing oil for several decades. In addition, Russia saw successful launches of several new production areas, including Rosneft’s large Eastern Siberian Vankor field in 2009.

“The biggest potential gains from new technology have now been mostly achieved. Existing brownfield sites are depleting rapidly and the Russian oil companies are investing billions of dollars in managing declining rates at these fields. Greenfields are located in inhospitable and remote places and projects therefore require large amounts of capital,” said Fitch.

“We believe oil prices would need to remain above US$100 per barrel and the Russian government would need to provide tax incentives for oil companies to invest in additional Eastern Siberian production.

“While some greenfield sites are in development, we believe they will only compensate for the production lost from mature assets. A large-scale development of the Russian continental sea shelf, most of which is off-limits to private oil companies due to legal restrictions, has barely begun. A notable exception is the Caspian Sea shelf where LUKOIL is progressing with its exploration and production programme.”

Fitch said it sees potential for more joint ventures between Russian and international oil companies in exploring the country’s continental shelf.

This is despite the increasing role of Russian state-owned companies in total oil output, as demonstrated by Rosneft’s announced acquisition of the 100% interest in TNK-BP. The Russian oil sector will also continue to use Western know-how and capital.