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The Final Frontier

The search for oil and gas in the Arctic started more than 50 years ago, and several basins have proven productive. The most prolific province has certainly been the North Slope of Alaska, with Prudhoe Bay being the flagship oilfield of not only Alaska but also the entire U.S. and North America.
This article appeared in Vol. 4, No. 4 - 2007

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The search for oil and gas in the Arctic started more than 50 years ago, and several basins have proven productive. The most prolific province has certainly been the North Slope of Alaska, with Prudhoe Bay being the flagship oilfield of not only Alaska but also the entire U.S. and North America. However, if we include the West Siberian Basin east of the Ural mountains in Russia in the Arctic realm, the North Slope is actually dwarfed by impressive reserves in the order of 150 billion barrels of oil and 1,300 Tcf of gas, according to the USGS.  

The West Siberian Basin continues into the offshore where it is known as the Kara Sea Basin, with only two wells drilled so far. This substantiates the idea that a huge proportion of the Arctic continental margin and adjacent onshore areas is still largely unexplored, including the Barents Sea offshore Norway and Russia, and a number of immature” basins north of Greenland, Russia, Canada and the U.S. The Arctic is therefore – for good reasons – considered to be one of the few regions in the world where significant undiscovered hydrocarbons resources may still exist.  

In fact, according to a study by the USGS, the Arctic may contain as much as 25% of the world’s undiscovered resources. This figure relies heavily on postulated oil riches offshore East Greenland, which, if proved wrong, will reduce the USGS estimate of Arctic resources by up to 25%. On the other hand, the USGS study does not include all the Arctic basins, so its estimate may be too low, independent of any success offshore Greenland.  

A significant proportion of these undiscovered resources lie offshore, meaning that it will take time – and possibly global warming – before we can exploit many of the hitherto undiscovered Arctic oil and gas fields.

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