About 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas could be trapped beneath the land and waters of the Arctic north, according to a new assessment by geologists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Additionally, 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil could lie in the region.

“Undiscovered natural gas is three times more abundant than oil in the Arctic and is largely concentrated in Russia,” the researchers wrote. “Oil resources, although important to the interests of Arctic countries, are probably not sufficient to substantially shift the current geographic pattern of world oil production.”

Oil and gas exploration in the Arctic has been limited to a handful of areas off the coasts of northern countries, such as the United States and Russia. The latest research, reported in the journal Science, suggests that the Arctic contains about 83 billion bbl of undiscovered oil, about 4% of the world’s remaining conventional reserves.

However, the big story is the gas that is waiting to be found. Researchers estimate that the Arctic contains 1,550 Tcf of gas, mainly offshore under less than 500 meters of water, which would make it accessible to drilling. Two-thirds of the gas is said to lie in four areas. They are the South Kara Sea, North Barents Basin, South Barents Basin and the Alaska Platform. The South Kara Sea off Siberia is home to an estimated 39% of the Arctic’s undiscovered gas, according to the study.

“[B]y 2007, more than 400 oil and gas fields, containing 40 billion bbl of oil, 1,136 Tcf of natural gas and 8 billion bbl of natural gas liquids had been developed north of the Arctic Circle, mostly in the West Siberian Basin of Russia and on the North Slop of Alaska,” the researchers wrote. “Deep oceanic basins have relatively low petroleum potential, but the Arctic continental shelves constitute one of the world’s largest remaining prospective areas.”

Last summer USGS researchers speculated that the Arctic could hold as much as 1,670 Tcf of gas and 90 billion bbl of oil, as well as 44 million bbl of natural gas liquids (see Daily GPI, July 24, 2008).

The Arctic has been prized for its resource potential for a while now. In 2007 Russia sent two small submarines to plant a national flag on the Arctic sea floor, and Canada announced plans to build a new military training center and a deepwater port in the Far North (see Daily GPI, Sept. 17, 2007; Aug. 13, 2007). The United States, with its Alaskan access, Norway and Denmark also claim to hold sovereignty in the region, where melting ice is improving access to new shipping lanes and natural resources.

For more information on the USGS Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal, visit https://energy.usgs.gov/arctic. For an abstract of the Science article or to purchase a full copy, visit www.sciencemag.org.

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