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Arctic Circle Said to Hold Undiscovered Energy Riches

North of the Arctic Circle 25 frigid fields may hold as much as 1,670 Tcf of natural gas, 90 billion bbl of oil, and 44 million bbl of natural gas liquids (NGL) still to be discovered, an appraisal by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported last week.

The USGS Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal (CARA) is considered the first publicly available petroleum resource estimate of the entire area north of the Arctic Circle. Thirty-three provinces were examined, of which 25 were considered to have a 10% or higher probability of at least one "significant" undiscovered petroleum accumulation. The assessment defined a significant accumulation as one containing recoverable volumes of at least 50 million bbl of oil and/or oil equivalent natural gas.

"Before we can make decisions about our future use of oil and gas and related decisions about protecting endangered species, native communities and the health of our planet, we need to know what's out there," said USGS Director Mark Myers. "With this assessment we're providing the same information to everyone in the world so that the global community can make those difficult decisions."

Several onshore areas in Canada, Russia and Alaska already have been explored, which has resulted in the discovery of more than 400 fields holding about 240 billion boe -- around 10% of the world's known conventional petroleum resources. The potential to find huge reserves in Arctic waters has developed into an unofficial international land grab among at least five countries, including the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark (see NGI, Aug. 13, 2007).

The CARA appraisal indicated that there is a considerable amount of oil and gas still to be discovered.

"The extensive Arctic continental shelves may constitute the geographically largest unexplored prospective area for petroleum remaining on Earth," the USGS reported.

The Arctic oil and gas resources cataloged by the USGS are said to account for about 22% of the undiscovered, technically recoverable resources in the world. The CARA assessment indicated that the Arctic holds 30% of the undiscovered natural gas, 13% of the undiscovered oil and 20% of the undiscovered NGL in the world. About 84% of the resources are in the frigid Arctic waters, the assessment noted.

By USGS estimates, more than 70% of the undiscovered natural gas in the Arctic region occurs in three provinces: the West Siberian Basin, the East Barents Basins and Arctic Alaska. More than half of the undiscovered oil resources are estimated to occur in just three geologic provinces: Arctic Alaska, the Amerasia Basin and the East Greenland Rift Basins. On an oil-equivalency basis, undiscovered natural gas is estimated to be three times more abundant than oil in the Arctic.

The USGS assesses global petroleum basins using "standardized and consistent" methods and protocol, which allows geologists to compare an area's petroleum potential with other petroleum basins in the world. To complete the review of the Arctic provinces, the USGS worked with several international organizations.

More information on the USGS CARA is available at http://energy.usgs.gov/arctic.

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