Pavel Preobrazhensky, a former minister in Kolchak's government, is primarily known for discovering the world's largest deposit of potassium salts. Nowadays, it serves as a source of raw material for Uralkali, a Russian potash fertiliser producer. The scientist also contributed to the development of the petroleum industry. He found petroleum deposits in the Chusovsky district of Perm Krai. Subsequently, the Volga-Ural Petroleum and Gas Province was discovered, also known as the Second Baku.
The president of Lukoil Vagit Alekperov and the geologist's grandchildren and great-grandchildren attended the unveiling ceremony. They encouraged young oil engineers to follow the path the famous scientists of the past had taken, always strive for professional development.
One such great person is – to say the least – Pavel Preobrazhensky. Upon graduating from the Mining Institute in 1900, he headed off to explore the gold mines of the Lena river basin. He was invited to join the group leaving for Eastern Siberia by Vladimir Obruchev, another influential scientist, also a St. Petersburg Mining Institute graduate. Obruchev was one of the first Russian science fiction authors; he wrote 'Sannikov Land', for instance.
Preobrazhensky's scientific endeavours had been recognised not only by fellow geologists but by the entire scientific community, with his efforts in prospecting and developing mineral deposits of the Urals worth particular mention. In 1919, he was appointed Minister of Education in Kolchak's government. Ascending to a senior position did not yield him any gains, though. In January 1920, he and the Supreme Governor of Russia were arrested in Irkutsk. They were sentenced to imprisonment until the end of the civil war.
Many of Preobrazhensky's colleagues asked for a commutation of his sentence at the time; even Maxim Gorky — he personally approached Lenin with a petition. In his request, he described the Mining Institute graduate as a groundbreaking, indispensable for the country geologist.
The scientist proved this to be true five years later, in 1925, when the geological expedition he led discovered the Verkhnekamskoye field of potassium-magnesium salts, now developed by Uralkali.
"The work we have carried out over the current year indicates that we've got enormous reserves of potassium salts here — they are so huge that they are of significance not to the USSR alone but to the whole world. We have to be smart at exploiting them, though," Preobrazhensky wrote in his report.
He was right. Current data indicate that Solikamsk raw material resources will last for at least another 300 years. The Uralkali-owned Verkhnekamskoye field provides for about 20% of the global consumption of potash fertilisers, allowing the Russian company to export them to, for instance, rapidly growing markets in Asia and South America. In the first six months of 2019, Uralkali produced 5.7 mln tonnes of potassium chloride, which raised its revenues by 10% to $1.543 bln. Belaruskali, for comparison, earned just $2.5 bln in the whole of 2018.
Even with economic and geopolitical challenges, there are great opportunities ahead of the company. The UN forecasts that by 2050 global population will have reached 9 billion people, with 11 billion inhabiting the planet by the end of the century. Since the demand for food products will increase, arable land will be subject to mounting pressures. Addressing them will require using more fertilisers, notably potash-based ones.
The explanation for this is that potash is a basiс nutrient for plants. It helps crops accumulate sugar, adapt to different climatic conditions (low temperatures, arid areas), accelerates photosynthesis.
Back to Pavel Preobrazhensky: laying the foundation for the Soviet potash industry was not his only achievement. He, in addition, set the scene for the future ramp-up of oil production in the country. This was of particular importance, considering the skyrocketing demand for fuel during the Great Patriotic War.
Preobrazhensky discovered the Verkhnechusovskoye field in 1929. Whilst it was not rich in reserves and was already depleted 15 years later, his find spurred prospecting and exploration activities in the Western Ural, which subsequently led to the discovery of the Volga-Ural Petroleum and Gas Province. After the end of the war, it provided the majority of domestically produced petroleum, with the numbers even exceeding those made at Baku oil fields.
As more deposits were discovered in Western Siberia, the share of the Second Baku in total production gradually decreased. It is estimated that around 65% of its reserves have been depleted by now. Nevertheless, in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Samara and Orenburg oblasts, Perm Krai, it is still not rare to see a unit pumping Russia's most valuable natural resource out of the ground. The region supplies some 90 mln tonnes of oil to the market annually, corresponding to one-sixth of the country's total output.
As per Lukoil-Perm, the initiator of erecting the monument to Pavel Preobrazhensky, the company's remaining recoverable reserves at 102 currently developed fields amount to 470 mln tonnes of oil.