May 29, 2009

Most Untapped Arctic Natural Gas Belongs To Russia

Some one-third of the planet's undiscovered natural gas reserves are likely located in territories belonging to Russia, said a recent report from researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey.

"These findings suggest that in the future the"¦pre-eminence of Russian strategic control of gas resources in particular is likely to be accentuated and extended," said the study's lead author, Donald L. Gautier.

Russia is already the world's dominant producer of natural gas, and these untapped reserves are likely to secure that position for a long time into the future.

More than half of these gas reserves are located in just four geographic regions"”the South Kara Sea, South Barents Basin, North Barents Basin and the Alaska Platform, according to the researchers. Nearly 40 percent of the Arctic's undiscovered gas is concentrated in the South Kara Sea area off the coast of northern Siberia.

The report, published in Friday's edition of the journal Science, also stated that roughly 3 to 4 percent of the planet's undiscovered oil is located in the areas north of the Artic Circle, most of which is claimed by Russia.

The Arctic oil reserves, however, are much smaller, and thus of far less global strategic significance than the massive natural gas deposits, noted Gautier in the report.

They could, however, be of regional significance if developed by individual countries like the U.S. or Greenland.

In recent years, Russia has vigorously asserted its territorial claims over large swathes of the Arctic, many of which have been challenged by the United States, Denmark, Canada and Norway. 

The increasingly heated debate over ownership of resources in the Arctic Ocean is complicated by the fact that the different countries involved have different conceptions of territorial rights.

Phil Steinberg, an associate professor for the Department of Geography at Florida State University in Tallahassee, says coming to terms with those divergent views is the essential first step in any attempt to resolve what is becoming a precarious international issue, particularly as global warming continues to open up more of the Arctic Ocean.

The former Soviet nation is currently working to amass evidence to prove that an underwater mountain range in the polar region is an extension of its continental shelf.  Two privately-funded mini-submarines collected water and geological samples from the area in 2007, making sure to leave behind a Russian flag upon departure.

Regardless of who owns them, Gautier emphasized, finding and developing these resources will take a long time and will thus be unlikely to affect global supplies in the immediate future.

"If these resources were to be found they would not be found all at once, they would be found incrementally and they would be produced incrementally," he explained.

According to Gautier, his group's research focused on a comparison of conditions in the Arctic region with other areas of the world where vast oil deposits have been found.

Due to the sheer vastness of the geographical area under consideration and the paucity of prior data, Gautier explained that his team had to employ some unconventional methods of assessment that included subdivided the area into geological regions and using limited data sets for comparison with other geologically similar regions around the world.

Gas and oil are usually located in sedimentary basins, he explained, each of which has its own unique "geologic story."

"As new data become available, our understanding of the resources in the Arctic will change."


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