It's tough to get workers to stay put in Siberia

Soviet natural gas production, the key to overall energy performance here, is sailing smoothly, but the official press has begun pointing to possible problems in the longer run.

Soviet energy output feeds domestic needs and in large part supplies Eastern Europe, but also provides the largest single chunk of cherished hard-currency export earnings.

The US Central Intelligence Agency has recently rolled back on predictions that the Soviet Union, still the world's No. 1 oil producer, would be forced to import substantial amounts of crude by 1985.

But with oil output, indeed, showing signs of leveling off, the Soviets have been switching emphasis from oil production to development of their enormous deposits of Siberian natural gas.

So far that strategy seems to be going well. Gas production was one of the few major economic indicators to meet official target figures for 1980. Figures for this year suggest that production is ahead of target.

But two recent articles in the official press suggest potential, longer-term problems, particularly in providing infrastructure for the major gas projects.

The government newspaper Izvestia quoted a senior official at the Urengoy gas field, which is slated to help provide as much as a 47 percent increase in national gas production by 1985, as suggesting the production plan was not adequately considering the importance of infrastructure.

"We are demanded to strictly fulfill the plan," the June 2 article quotes him as explaining, "and this is correct.

"But one has to take into consideration other things. The deposit is only being assimilated, and the [nearby] town of the New Urengoy is less than a year old.

"Not all conditions of life . . . have been decided yet. . . . One of the reasons people do not stay put here is the unsettled conditions of life. . . ."

A similar article June 15 in the Soviet communist Party newspaper Pravda suggests that infrastructure is only one of the problems.

"The cause of supplying the state economy with gas is suffering because of lack of coordination in the plans of different [government] ministries," the article says.

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