Petroleum-Refining Industry

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Petroleum-Refining Industry


the branch of heavy industry that includes the refining of petroleum and the manufacture of petroleum products (except carbon black).

Increased interest in oil fields and the distillation of petroleum to make more valuable products began in the first half of the 19th century (for historical information, see). In prerevolutionary Russia, primitive refining technology was used; the main marketable refinery product was kerosine. Petroleum refineries were concentrated in the Caucasus (in Baku and Groznyi). Foreign capital accounted for 56 percent of all capital investments in the petroleum industry in 1917.

After the Civil War of 1918–20, the Soviet government allotted considerable resources to the restoration and development of enterprises of the petroleum-refining industry (in 1923–24, this branch of industry received 37.2 percent of all expenditures for capital construction). As a result, gasoline production increased by a factor of 3.8 from 1921 through 1925, and the total quantity of light oil fractions produced rose by a factor of 2.3.

The foundation of the present-day petroleum-refining industry in the USSR was laid during the first five-year plans (1929–40). The opening of the oil and gas deposits in the Volga-Ural Oil-Gas Region was of great importance for the national economy. In the period from 1933 to 1937, petroleum refineries in Ishimbai and Ufa went into operation. To bring petroleum-refining enterprises closer to the centers of consumption, refineries were also built in Saratov, Krasnodar, Orsk, Khabarovsk, Odessa, and Kherson.

During the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45, Soviet petroleum refineries supplied the front and rear with fuel and lubricants.

In the postwar period, the petroleum-refining industry developed rapidly and continuously raised the level of technology and the volume of production. Prewar levels were surpassed in the period from 1946 to 1951. Primary refining capacity was systematically increased (during the 1966–70 five-year plan there was an increase by a factor of 1.4). In 1970 the industry refined 44 percent more petroleum than in 1965; the production of low-sulfur diesel fuel increased by a factor of 2.4 during the same period. Many new refineries and combines were put into operation at existing enterprises.

The petroleum-refining industry is now working to solve the problems of broader introduction of high-output production-process plants and units, the organization of highly specialized high-tonnage production, efficient combination and matching of several processes in a single production unit, improvement of catalytic systems, and the use of automatic control systems by enterprises and the entire sector. Enterprises are now in the process of switching over to high-output combination plants. In 1966 the unit capacity of Soviet refinery enterprises approached 1–2 million tons per year, but by 1971 there were several plants with annual capacities of 2–3 and 6 million tons. The increase in refinery volume is accompanied by a substantial improvement in the quality of petroleum products. The production of low-sulfur diesel fuel, high-octane gasoline, and oils with effective additives is becoming predominant.

Table 1. Output and consumption of petroleum products in nonsociatist countries (tons)
1960 ..........835,000,000820,000,000
1970 ..........1,824,000,0001,788,000,000
1971 ..........1,904,000,0001,866,000,000
1972 ..........2,000,000,0001,960,000,000

The petroleum-refining industry is closely associated with the petrochemical industry. The USSR is second (after the USA) in volume of petroleum refined and in the production of synthetic rubber. Improvements in petroleum refining and developments in secondary process capacity are taking place on the basis of new and modernized industrial processes. At present, work is being done on the scientific and technical problems of petroleum refining and petrochemistry in the USSR by 48 research institutes and their branches, 25 design organizations and their branches, and 18 experimental refineries.

The petroleum-refining industry of other socialist member

Table 2. Production capacity and regional distribution of the petroleum refining industry (as of Jan. 1, 1973)
RegionProduction (tons)
North America ..........772,000,000
Central and South America ..........292,000,000
Western Europe ..........842,000,000
Africa ..........42,000,000
Near and Middle East ..........138,000,000
Southeast Asia and non-Soviet Far East ..........353,000,000
Japan ..........216,000,000
Table 3. Volume of petroleum refining (tons)
USA ..........446,000,000510,000,000536,000,000579,000,000
Japan ..........70,000,000119,000,000165,000,000220,000,000
Federal Republic of Germany ..........66,000,00091,000,000106,000,000111,000,000
Italy ..........69,000,00094,000,000115,000,000121,000,000
Great Britain ..........66,000,00083,000,000101,000,000107,000,000

countries of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) is developing rapidly, aided by ever-increasing technical aid from the USSR. With the assistance of the USSR, more than 34 petroleum refineries and petrochemical enterprises have been built in COMECON member countries; among them are the Burgas Petrochemical Combine in Bulgaria, the Danube Oil Refinery in Hungary, and a refinery in Plock (Poland).

The dynamics of output and consumption of petroleum products in nonsocialist countries is represented by the data in Table 1.

The production capacity and regional distribution of the petroleum-refining industry of nonsocialist countries are given in Table 2.

The volume of refining of crude petroleum and the capacity of petroleum-refining enterprises in the major industrially developed capitalist countries are shown in Tables 3 and 4.

By 1973 the petroleum-refining capacity in the six major capitalist countries listed in Table 4 had increased by a factor of 3.7 in comparison with 1950. During this period, the share of the USA decreased and that of Japan and the countries of Western Europe grew vigorously. Of the countries listed, only the USA has large petroleum reserves, though even it is forced to import oil in considerable quantities. The petroleum-refining industries of such countries as Japan, the Federal Republic of Germany, and Italy depend totally or almost totally on imports. (See.)

In many developing countries, petroleum-refining capacity has also increased: in Iran, from 16 million tons in 1937 to 31 million tons in early 1973; in Bahrain, from 1.5 million tons to 13 million tons; in Mexico, from 4.9 million tons to 31 million tons; in Argentina, from 3 million tons to 30 million tons; in Brazil, from 200,000 tons to 36 million tons; in Venezuela, from 5.5 million tons to 75 million tons; in the Antilles, from 24 million tons to 44 million tons; in Trinidad and Tobago, from 3 million tons to 22 million tons; and in Indonesia, from 500,000 tons to 21 million tons. The petroleum-refining industry has recently been established in Kuwait (capacity in early 1973, 32 million tons), Saudi Arabia (21 million tons), and Nigeria (3 million tons).

A number of petroleum refineries in India, Turkey, Ethiopia, and Sri Lanka have been completed or are under construction with technical assistance from the USSR. For example, in India the petroleum-refining capacity in 1937 was about 500,000 tons (in the present-day territory of the country); by early 1973 the capacity had increased to 24 million tons.


Gubkin, I. M. Uchenie o nefti, 2nd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1937.
Nametkin, S. S. Khimiia nefti. Moscow, 1955.
Tekhnologiia pererabotki nefti i gaza, part 3. Moscow, 1966.
Tekhnologiia pererabotki nefti i gaza, part 1. Moscow, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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