The UK Guardian explores how Peak Oil is making the Arctic the new oil play. (Exhausted global oil supplies make Arctic the new hydrocarbon frontier)




A report completed in 2008 by the US Geological Survey argued that almost one-quarter of the undiscovered, technically recoverable, hydrocarbons in the world may be contained in an area north of the Arctic Circle. This – in numerical terms – amounts to 90bn barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil, 1,670 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable natural gas, and 44bn barrels of technically recoverable natural gas liquids in 25 geologically defined areas thought to have potential for petroleum.

That would mean the Arctic accounts for around 13% of the undiscovered oil, 30% of the undiscovered natural gas, and 20% of the undiscovered natural gas liquids in the world.


Worries are beginning to abound among oil producers, consumers and militaries of the world that Earth is reaching Peak Oil – the point at which maximum global oil production peaks before going into terminal decline.   With demand for oil ever increasing and prices reaching record levels fears are emerging about future oil shortages.  Hence the search for petroleum in more remote areas (deep in the south Atlantic Ocean off Brazil and the Arctic) or using more expensive extraction procedures (Canadian tar sands).

The easy to reach conventional oil in Canada, the United States, Saudi Arabia and the North Sea is already in decline. As one analyst puts it:  “The low-lying fruit has been picked.”  The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that conventional oil peaked in 2006. (Has the World Already Passed Peak Oil?)

Concern about the fate of Earth’s petroleum reserves has caused militaries to take notice since they are overly dependent on oil products to operate their ships and planes and tanks.  The US military has warned of serious shortages by 2015 with significant geopolitical effects.  Last year the German newspaper Der Speigel came upon an internal study by the German military which analyzes the impact of peak oil on the global balance of power.  The Ottawa Citizen reported in April of this year that the Canadian military has carried out its own study of a peak oil future.

Meanwhile, there could be military skirmishes in the Arctic over its rich resources.  The 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Sea gives five countries rights to the Arctic waters – Russia, Canada, the US, Norway and Denmark.  However, Russia says that its continental shelf extends well into the entire Arctic waters and is claiming large swaths of this territory (and the petroleum resources) as its own.  Indeed, Russia has gone so far as to threaten it will use military force to protect its interests in the high Arctic and this past week  said it would send two brigades to protect its interests.  The battle for the Arctic resources has lead Canada and Norway to respond with their own military moves.  See also here (Rush for Arctic’s resources provokes territorial tussles) and here (US and Russia stir up political tensions over Arctic) and here (Canada looking at building military bases in the Arctic).

Clearly there is a need for diplomatic moves to prevent a war from breaking out and there has been some action along these lines.  Russia and Norway have reached agreement over ownership of the Barents Sea.   All Arctic nations still have a major disagreement over who owns bits of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean, most particularly the 1,800 km Lomonosov ridge. Claims are now being submitted to the UN under the Law of the Sea Convention.

For more on Peak Oil see the links to Jeff Rubin, The Oil Drum, Peak Oil and Peak Energy.



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