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USGS: Arctic Circle chock full of oil and gas

A report by the US Geological Survey found that the region inside the Arctic Circle contains just over one-fifth of the world's undiscovered, recoverable oil and natural-gas resources.What does this mean for our energy needs, and for the planet?

By Blogger for The Christian Science Monitor / July 25, 2008

The Esmark glacier on the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard in the Arctic Circle.

AFP/PIERRE-HENRY DESHAYES/NEWSCOM

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A report by the US Geological Survey found that the region inside the Arctic Circle contains just over one-fifth of the world's undiscovered, recoverable oil and natural-gas resources.

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The report, the largest-ever survey of energy resources north of the Arctic Circle, found that the area holds an estimated 90 billion barrels of oil and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

"Before we can make decisions about our future use of oil and gas and related decisions about protecting endangered species, native communities and the health of our planet, we need to know what's out there," said USGS Director Mark Myers in a press release. "With this assessment, we're providing the same information to everyone in the world so that the global community can make those difficult decisions."

Several news outlets are all over this story. Here's what they have to say about what I think are the most important questions:

How much is it, really?

Most news outlets that covered this story say that, at today's consumption rate of 86 million barrels of oil a day, the oil in the Arctic would meet global demand for three years.

Keith Johnson, The Wall Street Journal's environmental blogger, notes that it would be 12 years if the United States could keep all the oil for itself. "The Arctic reserves might bring a little relief to tight markets," writes Mr. Johnson, "but they don’t look like the answer to declining production in oil fields in the rest of the world."

As for the natural gas reserves, The New York Times reports that the region holds about 30 percent of the world's undiscovered natural gas, an amount equal to Russia's proven gas reserves, which are the world’s largest. But most of the natural gas estimated to be in the Arctic is also in Russia: as the Associated Press reports, the majority of it is concentrated in two Russian provinces.

How much would it cost to extract it?

Pumping oil out of the hot desert is one thing. Pumping it out of the Arctic seabed is another matter altogether. The New York Times's Dot Earth blogger, Andrew Revkin, calls Arctic drilling "ridiculously hard," and he directs readers to a story he wrote in 2004 that highlights the challenges of drilling there.

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