Drilling for Oil & Gas in the Arctic

For years it remained economically unviable to extract oil and natural gas in the Arctic, but the situation is now changing: Interim price drops notwithstanding, prices on commodity exchanges will rise again in the near future.

"We must not let us ourselves be swayed by low oil prices," says Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency in Paris. "Raw materials extraction problems are not out of this world -- to the contrary. Our figures leaves no doubt about that."

Economists are convinced that global demand for oil will continue to grow, and that growth will have three epicenters -- China, India and the Middle East. In November 2008, in the midst of the global economic crisis, experts from the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) warned of an imminent oil shortage.

"Oil will be the first energy commodity where a real shortage will be felt due to the finiteness of the resource," BGR President Hans-Joachim Kümpel warned at the time. That's why it is important to explore for additional oil reserves, even in the Arctic, he said.

For anyone dealing with these issues, a visit to two men who live thousands of miles away from the Arctic, but have a very good understanding of its resources, is well worth the trip. The first visit takes us to Robert Scott in the United Kingdom. The location of his workplace seems unremarkable at first. When Scott -- casually dressed in a thick blue wool sweater -- exits his office and gets on his bike, he could very well run into a cow. He's one of about 20 researchers with the Cambridge Arctic Shelf Program (CASP), who are being housed in nondescript barracks near a farm on the outskirts of the traditional British university town.

CASP experts know the promising areas in the search for oil and gas in the Arctic. For decades, they have been working as an institute affiliated with Cambridge University, but the majority of their work is done for the oil industry. That's why it's impossible to look in any of the countless binders stacked in Scott's office. At the request of his clients, many details are to remain secret. Still, some research results are published -- usually with a two-year delay.

"The industry's interest in the Arctic has risen sharply," says Scott. "And now politics has entered the picture."

So where exactly is the search for hydrocarbons paying off? "We know that there are many places in the Arctic that potentially have oil and gas," says Scott. "The Barents Sea, the northern coast of Alaska, the Mackenzie Delta in Canada and the Yamal peninsula in Russia are promising places."

'Take What You Can Get'

Scott and his colleagues are also very interested in Greenland, although the ice conditions in the area remain adverse. And then there is the broad Russian continental shelf, which is still mostly unexplored -- largely because onshore activies have proven difficult enough up until now.

"The Russians have so far not been concerned with offshore exploration -- they've had plenty to do onshore," Scott says.

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