Arctic warming is unlocking potentially greatest untapped reserve of oil and gas resources
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Shrinking ice caps, melting permafrost, and technological advances enable greater access to the region’s abundant oil and gas reserves, which include as much as one-fifth of the undiscovered petroleum on the planet. With longer ice-free periods now available to explore for hydrocarbons, a new scramble for oil and gas could occur especially if oil prices recover to levels above $100 per barrel. In July 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimated that the Arctic comprises 30 percent of the world’s remaining natural gas resources, or 44 billion barrels, and 13 percent of untapped oil supplies, or 90 billion barrels. Nearly all (84 percent) of the oil and gas is expected to occur offshore, and most of the projected reserves are located in waters less than 500 meters deep and will likely fall within the uncontested jurisdiction of one or another Arctic costal state. “The extensive Arctic continental shelves may constitute the geographically largest unexplored prospec- tive area for petroleum remaining on Earth.”7 The Arctic already accounts for one-tenth of global conventional petroleum reserves, and the projections of the latest USGS study did not even ad- dress the potential for developing energy sources such as oil shale, gas hydrates, and coal-bed methane, all of which could be present. But with it comes the risk of increased pollution, pos- sible spills from oil and gas, and the threat of contaminating water sources during the extraction process.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Arctic region is the largest unexplored prospective area for petroleum remaining on earth with an estimated ninety billion barrels of undiscovered oil reserves, and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. In addition, the unpredictability of the Persian Gulf region makes the Arctic region even more attractive for exploitation.