In overcoming the technical challenges of oil production in the Arctic, are we making the most of a strategic resource or heading for an environmental and political minefield?
The vast Arctic region is probably the last remaining unexplored source of hydrocarbons on the planet.
In the past three decades of oil exploration in the Arctic, more than 200 billion barrels of oil have been discovered. Ultimate resources are estimated at 114 billion barrels of undiscovered oil and 2000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. If these estimates are correct, these hydrocarbons would account for more than a fifth of the world’s undiscovered reserves. This great prize, in a world of diminishing resources, has stimulated both governmental and industry interest in areas such as the US and Canadian Beaufort Sea, East and West Greenland and the Kara Sea.
Balanced against this are the considerable technical challenges of exploring and producing hydrocarbons in areas where sea ice is present for more than half the year as well as the underlying threat of damage to a pristine Arctic environment.
Harnessing the considerable resources of the ‘Final Frontier’ is going to be fraught with many technical, political and environmental challenges that will engage many minds, both scientific and political over the next half century.