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Arctic oil and gas bonanza

Posted by Richard on June 3, 2009

The American Association of Petroleum Geologists is meeting in Denver next week. One of the featured sessions looks at a recent re-appraisal of arctic oil and gas potential that significantly increased previous estimates:

The session will be co-chaired by Don Gautier and David Houseknecht, both with the U.S. Geological Survey, and will follow-up on a USGS report released in late May that said 30 percent of the world's undiscovered gas and 13 percent of its undiscovered oil are estimated to be located north of the Arctic Circle.

The study, presented by Gautier and colleagues, is the first detailed, peer-reviewed and geologically based assessment of natural resources in that region. Most of the undiscovered oil and gas will be found underwater, on continental shelves, the researchers said.

The USGS study was recently published in Science magazine, but is only available for free to AAAS members/subscribers. There's a brief overview (heavy on concern for the poor creatures of the Arctic and somewhat dismissive of the value to us humans) at ScienceNow

Some of the richest Arctic oil fields are likely to be off the Alaskan coast in the Bering, Beaufort, and Chukchi Seas. A lease auction last year in the Chukchi area brought in over $2.6 billion. Many of the promising parcels there are comparable in size to the North Slope field (Prudhoe Bay) that's fed over 15 billion barrels of oil down the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in the past 30 years. 

Unfortunately, on April 17, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Appeals Court vacated the Alaskan leasing program and ordered the Interior Dept. to "conduct a more complete comparative analysis of the environmental sensitivity of different areas…" Fortunately, the ruling was fairly narrow, and the court dismissed plaintiffs' arguments that Interior needed to consider the "climate change" impact of burning any oil found. Interior Secretary Salazar is at least giving the impression that he wants to "move forward and fix the shortcomings," not scrap Alaskan offshore development completely. No suggestion that they might appeal, though. I suspect he's delighted by the ruling and won't seriously try to reverse it.

With oil (and gas) prices on the rise again, it's high time the government stopped standing in the way of increased domestic oil production. That's especially true in the Alaskan Arctic, where — as Investor's Business Daily pointed out — if we don't go after those resources, others will:

It ought to be reassuring to Americans that energy can be developed here. Americans are environmentally conscious, and Palin herself has a good record on balancing development with ecology.

The alternative isn't reassuring: If we don't drill, the Russians will. Situated over on the eastern end of the Chukchi Sea, they have global ambitions of dominating the energy trade and no qualms about muscling in on the U.S.

Drill Chukchi. Drill now. Pay less.  

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