How much oil is in the Arctic?
For years, experts believed that the Arctic Region contained about 20% of the world’s unexploited oil and gas reserves. Now, there are reasons to believe that the Arctic hides a much greater share of natural resources.
Due to the fact that over the past 15-20 years no large onshore oil or gas deposits have been discovered on the territories of the world’s principle oil and gas producers, Russia included, 30% of oil and gas production has been aimed seawards. This will make the Arctic Region a global oil and gas hub in the near future.
The Arctic has undergone severe geological changes in the past several million years. Oil and gas reserves have “migrated” with the permafrost ice cap exerting extreme pressure on the gas reserves. The subsequent melting of the Arctic ice has reduced this pressure, causing the formation of so-called gas pockets.
As oil reserves began to dwindle, natural gas reserves increased. In 2008, the UN Geological Service published the results of a five-year study according to which the bulk of gas rich areas in the Arctic are in the Russian sector.
The Kara and Barents Seas store between 65 and 215 billion barrels of oil equivalent. Gas accounts for 80% of the deposits, being a more functional fuel than oil. This is what has attracted international attention to the Russian sector of the Arctic. If Russian scientists prove that the Lomonosov and Mendeleev underwater Ridges are extensions of the Russian continental shelf, Russia will obtain the right to an extra 1.2 million square kilometers of oil and gas fields beyond the Arctic Circle adding billions to its reserves.
Russia began to explore the Arctic coast in the 19th century. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 provided the then Soviet Union and other countries of the Arctic Club, including the US, Canada, Norway and Denmark, with the right to extend their economic zones to the extent of their continental shelves. For years, none of the countries took any steps in this direction.
Even though present-day geological exploration gives no exact figures as to the amount of oil and gas in the region, the following data does exist. According to official reports submitted by the Russian Institute of Oceanic Studies, the western sector of the Russian Arctic has about 42 billion tons of oil and 71 trillion cubic meters of gas. The eastern Arctic seas contain about 9 billion tons of oil and 10 trillion cubic meters of gas. Gazprom estimates the resources of the Barents, Pechora and Kara Seas at around 70 billion tons of fuel oil equivalent.
Even though there are no oil wells in the Laptev Sea, the East Siberian Sea or the Chukchi Sea, there exist a whole number of developed territories, including the northern shelf of Alaska and Canada in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, the south western part of the Russian Barents Sea and part of the Pechora and Kara Seas. The continuing melting of ice as a result of global warming may prove helpful, making it possible for geologists to expand exploration work to more territories.
By now, 8 of 13 known deposits in the Barents Sea are under exploitation. Gas reserves of the Barents and Kara shelf are estimated at 4.8 trillion cubic meters. According to current reports, the Barents Sea’s oil reserves, estimated at 450 million tons, are all being exploited.
Large volumes of oil and gas from the Arctic can be transported in tankers to countries of Asia and the Pacific. Sergei Naryshkin, head of presidential administration, said that energy cooperation with countries of the Pacific Rim is of strategic importance for Russia. The demand for oil and gas in this region is growing much faster than in Europe.
Scientists hope that the Arctic Region will soon turn into a major source of oil and gas. In 2012, the Russian government will adopt a program to tap the resources of the Arctic continental shelf. This will be followed by large-scale exploration work in the Russian sector of the Arctic. Since there is little hope of finding large oil and gas deposits onshore, offshore reserves are the only option to stake on in the years to come.