Uzbekistan is celebrating what is claimed to be country’s largest ever crude discovery after oil producer Sanoat Energetika Guruhi (SEG) reported a major new unconventional oil find in the Zarafshan depression, between the cities of Samarkand and Navoy.

SEG said the Yangi Uzbekistan discovery holds estimated in-place reserves of about 730 million barrels of heavy viscous oil, making it the largest oil asset ever found in the country, which hosts predominantly gas reserves.

SEG said the discovery involved drilling 50 shallow exploration wells and acknowledged strong technical assistance in the initial exploration phase of the project from its Russian contractor, private held geological venture Kontiki Exploration.

The project launched in May 2021 with the drilling of the first exploration well. Drilling depths have ranged from 400 to 750 meters, SEG said.

Drillng results showed layers of gravel and sandstone of the Albian, Cenomanian and Turonian periods, all of which were saturated with viscous oil and bitumen, SEG added.

Kontiki deputy executive director Alexander Astakhov said the company is continuing its exploration efforts with SEG in the Zarafshan depression, which he believes may become a new major oil and gas province in Uzbekistan.

According to Kontiki, there is also a good chance of discovering conventional oil reserves at greater depths in the play.

An SEG spokesperson told Upstream that development of the asset is expected to require steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) — a method never previously used in Uzbekistan.

SAGD involves drilling pairs of wells — one to inject high-pressure vapour to warm up the formation, with the second well starting to operate when the heavy oil has melted and can be pumped to the surface.

In the initial development phase, SEG expects to drill about 500 wells at Yangi Uzbekistan to achieve production of 6000 barrels per day.

Several Russian and Western contractors have been contacted about working on the development, the company said.

SEG also expects new injection and development wells will need to be drilled throughout the first 12 years of to maintain a production plateau of 20,000 bpd, which it hopes to achieve by 2025.

According to Uzbekistan government statistics, the country produced about 15,500 bpd of oil last year, of which SEG accounted for about 65%.

Previously known as Jizzakh Petroleum, SEG is owned by Uzbek businessman Bakhtiyer Fazylov.

The company started its operations in early 2021 after Uzbek authorities reportedly ordered state oil and gas producer Uzbekneftegaz to transfer most of its oil producing assets to Jizzakh.