Russia's TNK-BP kickstarts new Siberian oil field

TALAKANSKOYE OILFIELD, Russia, Oct 15 (Reuters) - BP's BP.L Russian venture, TNK-BP, on Wednesday started commercial oil production from the Verkhnechonsk field in Eastern Siberia, opening up a new frontier for Russian hydrocarbon production.

TNK-BP chief operation officer Tim Summers pressed a button to start the oil flowing from Verkhnechonsk, some 4,000 km (2,500 miles) east of Moscow, into the Asian pipeline being built by state monopoly Transneft.

The ceremony, watched by oilfield workers, took place on an unusually warm day for Siberia at Talakan oilfield, owned by Surgutneftegaz SNGS.MM oil company, where oil from Verkhnechonsk joins the Asian pipeline.

“This is a world-class hydrocarbon deposit with over 1 billion barrels in recoverable reserves,” Summers said.

“This is a very important development for Russia because, along with Talakan field, this opens up a new production hub in Eastern Siberia,” he added.

Developing East Siberia oil deposits is a key to Russia’s plans to boost oil production in coming years as existing fields in West Siberia mature. TNK-BP is a joint venture of BP and a group of four Russia-connected billionaires.

TNK-BP officials said they expected Verkhnechonsk oilfield production to reach 180,000 tonnes this year, rising next year to 1.3 million tonnes.

Peak production for the field is likely to be “between 7 and 10 million tonnes per year”, said Sergei Brezitsky, TNK-BP vice president for upstream.

Crude from the field will initially flow southwest through the pipeline to Angarsk refinery owned by state-controlled oil firm Rosneft ROSN.MM because the eastern stretch of the pipeline to the Pacific is not yet ready.

Summers said TNK-BP had already spent about $1 billion in developing Verkhnechonsk and would likely invest another $4 billion during the field’s life.

The field was discovered in 1978 by Soviet geologists and had not been explored until now because of lack of infrastructure and development skills. The field, formed around 500 million years ago, is more than twice as old as an average oil field. (Reporting by Michael Stott; Editing by Michael Urquhart)