The Arctic has long been described as a goldmine of untapped resources, and in recent years it has been the site for some international chest-thumping and the attempted claiming of rights. But given what lies beneath, it is not hard to understand why. According to the US Geological Survey, the Arctic potentially holds an estimated 90 billion barrels of oil (13% of the world’s recoverable oil reserves), up to 50 trillion cubic metres of natural gas (about 30% of the world’s natural gas reserves), and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids – not to mention assorted precious metals and minerals. As a result, the race is on for various countries to exploit these reserves. However, rightfully so, scientists are worried about the environmental damage that could be unleashed on the region.

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All over the world, oil companies are gearing up to be the first to tap these oil reserves. Tim Dodson, executive vice-president of the Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil has already been quoted as saying: “The race is on for positions in the new oil provinces.” By being the one to sell the oil to countries around the world, these companies have the ability to meet global demand for several more years – and at increased prices.

Of course, there is a reason that no one has yet exploited the Arctic. No one country has a claim to the region and it is remote and very dangerous to work in. Plus any disasters are all the more hazadous in icy waters as Exxon discovered in 1989. However the oil companies have been quick to say that they have moved on since then and that  the “technology will be there to clean it (any spilt oil) up”.

That’s hardly reassuring.

The scientific community have already taken action with a group of 573 scientists writing to President Barack Obama last week and pleading caution in the authorization of any gas and oil activity in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska. They say oil companies still aren’t ready for the conditions that they would face in the Arctic Ocean, and to do so now would result in an environmental disaster that may be impossible to clean up and contain.

+ US Geological Survey


Images: destination arctic circleeuno/NOAA Photo Library