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Review files Exploration and Production


Korea (North) has only a limited history of drilling with just a few speculative exploration wells drilled since 1965 in a range of basins both onshore and offshore, mostly using antiquated equipment and targeted with sparse geological and geophysical data.

In 1965, the country established a ‘bureau for the management of geological surveys for fuel resources’ and China conducted geophysical surveys and exploratory drilling in the west and northeast. In 1967 the Soviet Union then conducted a joint geological study in the Tumen estuary area. Neither of these projects yielded much worthwhile information.

In 1976 North Korea established two oil and gas exploration organizations, the Taedong-gang Survey Group (offshore) and the Tumen-gang Survey Group (onshore). By 1978 the offshore group had begun rudimentary drilling operations in Korea Bay from a fixed platform. GECO was contracted to acquire an extensive survey of offshore seismic data from 1980. A few wells were drilled by the onshore and offshore groups using old equipment in a number of areas but with no success.

The country was also keen on attracting foreign oil exploration companies. Meridian licensed an exploration block in the Sohae Basin (Korea Bay Basin) in 1987, the first drilling rights to be granted to a foreign company. In 1989 a well drilled 50 kms north of the Demilitarised Zone in the Zaeryong Basin was reported to have produced 425 barrels of oil and by 1990 at least 30 on and offshore wells had been drilled on both sides of the peninsula. However, reports of ‘vast oil resources’ by the government were grossly exaggerated.

The country reached out to South Korean, Japanese and Australian companies. All failed to proceed to drilling. In 1997 the government reported it had produced 450 bbls of oil per day from its No. 406 well off Nampo but the truth of this claim has not been established. In 1998 SOCO International acquired a concession to explore onshore and offshore areas of the Anju-Sukchon and Onchon Basins on the west coast but failed to find commercial reserves.

A number of foreign companies then secured rights in 2000 and 2001, focussed on the Sohae Basin where CNOOC had speculated that large potential reserves exist, bordering the Bohai Gulf in China. Sanctions ensured that no wells were drilled. North Korea continues to try to work with small foreign firms to develop its resources and there may be potential, particularly in the seas adjacent to China, and also in deeper waters on the east, but little activity is likely whilst sanctions in the country persist.

Thus Korea (North) is not forecast by Globalshift to achieve any commercial oil or gas production in the short or medium term future.

For recent events see News Briefs.


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News Briefs

Korea (North)

North Asia

Korea (North)