Polar potential

Published: Sunday 31 August 2008

Down to Earth
Click here to Enlarge View
The rapid disappearance of the Arctic sea ice in recent years and a record melt in 2007 due to global warming has led to a mad rush among countries bordering the region to claim petroleum deposits beneath the ocean floor

At stake is

Down to Earth About 22 per cent of the world's untapped petroleum deposits

Down to Earth 90 billion barrels of oil (13 per cent of untapped oil deposits)

Down to Earth 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (30 per cent)

Down to Earth 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids (20 per cent)

Down to Earth About 84 per cent of the resources are expected to occur offshore

Down to Earth The petroleum deposits are spread across 25 geologically defined areas (geological provinces) in the Arctic

Down to Earth Over 50 per cent of the untapped oil occurs in just three geological provinces Arctic Alaska, Amerasia Basin and the East Greenland Rift Basins

Down to Earth Over 70 per cent of the untapped natural gas deposits are in three geological provinces West Siberian Basin, East Barents Basin and Arctic Alaska

Down to Earth Untapped natural gas is estimated to be three times more abundant than oil

Major players

Down to Earth In July 2008 Russia sent warships to patrol the Arctic waters. On August 2, 2007, it sent an expedition to plant a Russian flag on the seabed under the North Pole

Down to Earth On August 10, 2007, Canada announced it would build a military centre, a deep-water port and sent ships to patrol its sovereignty over the Northwest Passage

Down to Earth On August 12, 2007, Danish researchers set out on a month-long voyage to collect geological data

Down to Earth On August 17, 2007, us coast guard vessel, Cutter Healy, set sail to map the seafloor on the northern Chukchi Cap in the Arctic. Two earlier expeditions happened in 2003 and 2004

Battle lines

Down to Earth Canada, Denmark and Russia claim the Lomonosov Ridge--an underwater mountain range--as a natural extension to their continental shelves

Down to Earth Norway has a border dispute in the Barents Sea with Russia

Contested zones
Major petroleum deposits beneath
Arctic’s ocean floor
Geological province Oil (MMBO) Natural gas (BCFG) Natural gas liquid (MMBNGL)
West Siberian Basin 3,659.88 651,498.56 20,328.69
Arctic Alaska 29,960.94 221,397.60 5,904.97
East Barents Basin 7,406.49 317,557.97 1,422.28
East Greenland Rift Basins 8,902.13 86,180.06 8,121.57
Amerasia Basin 9,723.58 56,891.21 541.69
MMBO million barrels of oil; BCFG billion cubic feet of natural gas; MMBNGL million barrels of natural gas liquids
Down to Earth The us disputes Canada's claims over the Northwest Passage

Rule of thumb

Down to Earth The countries have to submit their claims under the un Convention on the Law of the Sea--an international agreement that governs the use of the oceans and their resources (see 'Arctic rush', Down To Earth, September 30, 2007). While Russia and Norway have already submitted their claims, the us has refused to ratify citing concerns of national sovereign rights over the 200 nautical miles offshore. Canada and Denmark are expected to submit their claims soon.

Source Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal 2008 by US Geological Survey and media reports

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.