Vast petroleum reserves lie north of the Arctic Circle, according to the US Geological Survey – more than 400billion barrels oil equivalent of potentially recoverable oil, natural gas and liquids. And most of it seems to lie offshore.
Mainstream headlines have concentrated on the estimate for oil – 90billion barrels, of which more than one-third lies in the North America sector.
But gas is thought to be three times more abundant in the Arctic than oil, with USGS’s estimates pointing to some 300billion barrels oil equivalent (1,670trillion cu ft) of this relatively clean energy source.
Additionally, there may be some 44billion barrels’ worth of natural gas liquids, which are a valuable feedstock for the petrochemicals industry.
These resources, spread across 25 different basins, account for about 22% of the undiscovered, technically recoverable resources in the world. The Arctic accounts for about 13% of the undiscovered oil; 30% of the undiscovered natural gas, and 20% of the undiscovered natural gas liquids in the world.
About 84% of the estimated resources are expected to occur offshore.
Of the presumed totals, USGS calculates that more than half of the undiscovered oil resources occur in just three geologic provinces – Arctic Alaska, the Amerasia Basin and the East Greenland Rift Basins.
More than 70% of the undiscovered natural gas is reckoned to occur in three provinces – the West Siberian Basin, the East Barents Basins and Arctic Alaska.
The USGS Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal is part of a project to assess the global petroleum basins using standardised and consistent methodology and protocol.
This approach allows for an area’s petroleum potential to be compared with other petroleum basins in the world.
The USGS worked with a number of international organisations to conduct the geologic analyses of these Arctic provinces.
Technically recoverable resources are those producible using currently available technology and industry practices. For the purposes of this study, the USGS says it did not consider economic factors such as the effects of permanent sea ice or oceanic water depth in its assessment of undiscovered oil&gas resources.
This US agency is, thus far, the only provider of publicly available estimates of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil&gas resources and is stressing that this particular piece of research is being made globally available to help nations get a better grip on what global energy resources might in fact be.
Exploration for petroleum has already resulted in the discovery of more than 400 oil&gas fields north of the Arctic Circle. These fields account for about 40billion barrels of oil, more than 1,100trillion cu ft of gas and 8.5billion barrels of natural gas liquids.
Nevertheless, the Arctic, especially offshore, is essentially unexplored with respect to petroleum, with Norway and Russia in the lead in that regard. There is very little equipment readily available that can work effectively and safety in this most hostile of offshore provinces.
Breaking down the report into its key sectors – Timan Pechora, West Greenland/East Canada, Greenland East, Siberian Craton and Laptov Sea – USGS has come up with the following outline assessments:
Geologically, the Timan-Pechora Basin province is a triangular-shaped cratonic block bounded by the north-east/south-west trending Ural Mountains and the north-west/south-east trending Timan Ridge. The northern boundary is shared with the South Barents Sea province.
The Timan-Pechora Basin has a long history of oil&gas exploration and production. The first field was discovered in 1930 and, after 75 years of exploration, more than 230 fields have been discovered and more than 5,400 wells have been drilled. This has resulted in the discovery of more than 16billion barrels of oil and 40trillion cu ft (TCF) of gas.
The estimated means for conventional resources in portions of the Main Basin Platform and Foredeep Basins north of the Arctic Circle are 1,668million barrels of oil, 9TCF of gas and 204million barrels of liquids. Nearly all of the undiscovered conventional oil resources are estimated to be in the Main Basin Platform, and 60% of the non-associated gas is estimated to be in the Foredeep Basins.
However, USGS says volumes of gas potentially in a basin-centred gas accumulation in the Foredeep Basins were not assessed.
The West Greenland-East Canada province is essentially the offshore area between West Greenland and East Canada and includes Baffin Bay, Davis Strait, Lancaster Sound and Nares Strait west of, and including, the Kane Basin.
USGS assessed conventional resources in the West Greenland-East Canada province to be in the order of 7.275billion barrels of oil, 51.816TCF of gas and 1.152billion barrels of liquids.
Most of the undiscovered oil, gas and natural gas liquids is likely in the offshore parts of the province .
USGS estimates that the East Greenland Rift Basins province contains about 31.4billion barrels oil equivalent of oil, gas and liquids. Of the five assessed autonomous geological units, North Danmarkshavn Salt Basin and the South Danmarkshavn Basin are estimated to contain most of the undiscovered petroleum resources.
USGS assessed undiscovered conventional, technically recoverable petroleum resources (discovered reserves not included), resulting in the estimated mean volumes to be about 8billion barrels of oil, 106TCF of gas and 3billion barrels of liquids. Most undiscovered petroleum is thought to be in the Yenisey-Khatanga Basin.
The survey estimate for this important future Russian offshore energy province is 3billion barrels of oil, 32.25TCF of gas and 861million barrels of liquids. Most undiscovered petroleum is estimated to be in the West Laptev Grabens.