In the frozen swamps of western Siberia, rows of shiny blue and silver wells pump oil around the clock from the Priobskoye field to a station on the banks of the River Ob and then on to markets abroad.
“We're going to more than double production this year,” says Vladimir Kornyev, Priobskoye's chief engineer, trudging through thick mud and melting snow.
With three and a half billion barrels of oil in reserves, Priobskoye is a black gold mine for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, chief executive and main shareholder of the Yukos Oil Company, Russia's second largest oil producer. Boosting production at fields like Priobskoye is part of Khodorkovsky's bid to shed his image as a Russian tycoon who ran roughshod over shareholders and pocketed cash from the business instead of reinvesting.
Three years ago, Khodorkovsky became a poster boy for Russia's rough-and-tumble business climate by seeking to dilute minority shareholders and move assets offshore. Now he is trying to attract Western investors through a string of shareholder friendly moves.