However, catching up may prove more difficult than originally thought. In the past seven years, the U.S. has made significant progress in the field of tight oil production. As a result, oil imports into the country have fallen to their lowest in 25 years and according to BP's "Energy Outlook 2030" report, dated January 2013, the "rapid increase in shale oil production could enable the U.S. to overtake Russia and Saudi Arabia as early as this year." This could put downward pressure on oil prices, which will not bode well for either Russia or other energy exporters' budgets. To avoid suffering significant long-term losses, Russia decided to start its own large-scale shale oil development.
In addition to its main shale oil deposit concentrated in the Bazhenov Formation in Siberia, Russia already holds a lot of "hard-to-reach" oil reserves spread out around its territory. Therefore, nearly all Russian energy companies have projects to produce "difficult" oil. Several oil service companies have been hired to recover stranded oil reserves. Multiple projects have been selected for pilot development. Companies such as TNK-BP are set to invest millions in the development of hard-to-reach oil. Rosneft has dozens fields in Western Siberia that hold billions of metric tons of stranded oil reserves. It struck a deal with ExxonMobil to develop more than twenty other sites, while a join venture between Gazprom Neft and Shell plans to develop another oil field.
Despite the attention, all these projects are at a very early stage of development for a variety of reasons. First of all, Russia's "difficult" oil reserves are harder to access than those in the United States and Europe. Russia does not have the infrastructure or the know-how necessary to tap the majority of stranded oil. Although the latest technologies are available in the market, to spread the financial risks and to employ the right technologies, Russians are looking to engage foreign partners. Secondly, Russia's investment climate is not stable. Previous scandals involving foreign investors in Russia's energy sector made it extremely unpalatable to do business there, despite promises of high returns. Another issue is the regulatory uncertainty or Russian government's inability to offer the companies terms that would make their investments attractive enough to participate. According to multiple sources, the government is currently working on approving tax breaks for companies undertaking such projects.
And yet, despite all the uncertainty, Russian oil experts believe that Russia has a reasonable chance of catching up with the U.S. in the next five years or so. Only time will tell whether those experts have a point.