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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 the current government remains in power and sanctions on 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.
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The Korean Peninsula forms part of the southern edge of the North China Craton (Amurian Plate) which also underlies Manchuria, Western Japan and the Russian Province of Primorsky Krai.
The plate is moving southeastwards with respect to the Eurasian Plate, colliding with the Philippine Sea Plate in the south. The Korean Peninsula is some distance from this margin and is largely comprised of basement metamorphic rocks and volcanics with small areas of Palaeozoic sedimentary accumulation, notably the Pyongyang basin.
A number of younger intra-cratonic basins are present along the western and eastern coastal plain containing sequences of Mesozoic and Cenozoic sediments, extending offshore into Korea Bay on the west and into the Sea of Japan on the east.
The western offshore Sohae Basin, also known as the Korea Bay Basin, and adjacent sub-basins, Sinuiju to its north, and Anju-Sukchon, Zaeryong and Onchon to its east, are rifted lacustrine basins formed on the basement of the North China Craton at the end of the Cretaceous. Geology is uncertain but they probably have similarities with the Bohai Basin in China. Here, during the syn-rift stage, a series of grabens and half grabens developed along northwest and northeast trending fault sets before becoming one large post-rift basin during the late Oligocene. Sediments were deposited in a lake setting within these grabens with post-rift sediments dominated by fluvial deposits.
Little is known about the geology of the eastern offshore rifted Tonghae basin in the shallow and deep waters of the Sea of Japan or of the Kyongson basin to its north with the adjacent Kilchu onshore basin near to the Russian border. There are no nearby analogous producing areas and, if there is any potential, it is probably only for gas.
Korea (North) thus has no oil and gas potential recognised by Globalshift although there may be opportunities for oil and gas accumulations both onshore and offshore in a number of the sedimentary basins, especially offshore Sohae.