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Abstract

The US Geological Survey recently assessed the potential for undiscovered conventional petroleum in the Arctic. Using a new map compilation of sedimentary elements, the area north of the Arctic Circle was subdivided into 70 assessment units, 48 of which were quantitatively assessed. The Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal (CARA) was a geologically based, probabilistic study that relied mainly on burial history analysis and analogue modelling to estimate sizes and numbers of undiscovered oil and gas accumulations. The results of the CARA suggest the Arctic is gas-prone with an estimated 770–2990 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered conventional natural gas, most of which is in Russian territory. On an energy-equivalent basis, the quantity of natural gas is more than three times the quantity of oil and the largest undiscovered gas field is expected to be about 10 times the size of the largest undiscovered oil field. In addition to gas, the gas accumulations may contain an estimated 39 billion barrels of liquids. The South Kara Sea is the most prospective gas assessment unit, but giant gas fields containing more than 6 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas are possible at a 50% chance in 10 assessment units. Sixty per cent of the estimated undiscovered oil resource is in just six assessment units, of which the Alaska Platform, with 31% of the resource, is the most prospective. Overall, the Arctic is estimated to contain between 44 and 157 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Billion barrel oil fields are possible at a 50% chance in seven assessment units. Undiscovered oil resources could be significant to the Arctic nations, but are probably not sufficient to shift the world oil balance away from the Middle East.

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