The Arctic is a goldmine of untapped resources. According to a 2008 estimate by the US Geological Survey it boasts 90 billion barrels of oil (13% of the world’s recoverable oil reserves), up to 50 trillion cubic metres of natural gas (about 30% of the world’s natural gas reserves), and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.
Decisions are being made as to when the oil majors should be unleashed upon this pristine environment. As Tim Dodson, executive vice-president of the Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil, said, “The race is on for positions in the new oil provinces.”
The oil companies see the Arctic as an opportunity to supply the worlds demand for fossil fuels for many years to come, but environmental activists are horrified by the prospect of drilling in such a beautiful, remote and often dangerous region.
Oil spills are far harder to clean up in icy waters as proven by the Exxon Valdez accident in 1989 in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, where oil can still be found today along the beaches and coastline, but Dodson assures that this time the “technology will be there to clean it (any spilt oil) up”.
The oil industry is trying to comfort any opposition by promising that they will be cautious and responsible whilst working in the region. Joseph Mullin, a London-based programme manager at the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, has admitted that “we realize there are huge issues when working in the cold and darkness and in the presence of sea ice in areas at great distance from any infrastructure.”
However critics are still alarmed by the rate at which everything seems to be progressing. Last week a group of 573 scientists wrote to President Barack Obama, pleading caution in the authorisation of any gas and oil activity in the Arctic Ocean North of Alaska, and claiming that more research is still needed. Vladimir Chuprov, a Moscow-based energy expert who works for Greenpeace, said that, “In our view no company is ready for offshore oil projects in the Arctic Ocean.”
By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com
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