The Arctic may contain a fifth of the worlds yet to-be-discovered oil and natural gas reserves, the United States Geological Survey announced this week after conducting the largest-ever survey of fossil fuel potential in the region.
The New York Times points out that, according to the agency, most of the yet-to-be found resources are likely to be located in offshore areas near national boundaries, not under the more disputed North Pole itself. This is at least good news to those who have worried about war -- at least a cold war -- over control of the pole.
The four-year assessment found that the Arctic may hold as much as 90 billion barrels of undiscovered oil reserves, and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. This would be 13% of the worlds total undiscovered oil and 30% of the undiscovered natural gas. At todays consumption rate of 86 million barrels a day, the potential oil in the Arctic could meet global demand for almost three years, whereas the regions potential natural gas resources are roughly equal to Russia's, the worlds largest.
The world currently holds 1.24 trillion barrels of proven oil reserves and 6,263 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves, according to the Times.
Of course, it is important to remember that the USGS survey is a scientific estimate, and that many factors determine how much oil can actually be recovered from the ground, from geologic variability to shifting economic realities. Given the region's highly sensitive environment, many environmentalists are concerned that a reinvigorated oil rush could wreak havoc. Alaskan native groups also oppose some of the proposed projects, arguing that their homelands can be readily despoiled.
Finally, given how long it takes to actually explore and tap new oil fields, you wouldn't be filling up your car with new Arctic petrol for years to come, even given optimum results for the industry.
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