Drilling for Oil & Gas in the Arctic

Scott believes it possible that there is oil and gas in the Lomonosov Ridge, but he personally finds the Russian continental shelf much more interesting. So why, then, is there a race for the North Pole, with the Russians in pole position? Why do they make their territorial claims so far into the Arctic basin, when they have great wealth off their coast in areas that already belong to them? Scott shrugs, "You take what you can get, just to be on the safe side."

Scott, who has done research on several expeditions in areas such as the island of Novaya Zemlya, the Timan-Pechora Basin and the Taimyr Peninsula, says that the Russians are not necessarily well-positioned for development of Arctic oil because they have too little expertise. At the same time, he says, many Western companies are "a little bit afraid" of Russia and Russian monopolies such as Gazprom, which can at times intimidate their foreign partners. Scott feels the fear that Russia is deliberately stoking is "silly."

"In the long term, the Russians need Western help," he says. "In the West, a company would never take on such major projects alone."

The other man who knows interesting things about oil deposits in the Arctic is Donald Gautier, who works for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in Menlo Park in the heart of Silicon Valley. A cowhide covers the floor of his research office and a blue racing bike is parked in the corner. Gautier is trying to find oil just as his British colleague Robert Scott is seeking to do, but he also wants to ascertain just how much of it is really out there. In the summer of 2008, a team under his management published the report "Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal (CARA)," the first public estimation of the number of as yet undiscovered oil and gas deposits in the Arctic.

Gautier kindly points to a corner of his office where dozens of maps are stacked on a special table. At first, it isn't easy to read them. They all have the North Pole as their center point in order to provide the best possible view of the entire Arctic region. USGS experts have surveyed 25 oil-bearing provinces north of the Arctic Circle that have been partly divided into several surveying areas -- in total there are 48 assessment units.

"We know a lot about the geological constellations in which oil and gas deposits are found around the world," says Gautier, smiling mischievously from behind his black horn-rimmed glasses. "The deposits are not randomly distributed, so you need more than just luck to find them."

The USGS researchers' basic principle is to survey the geological structures of the Arctic and compare them with all the places in the world where oil and gas have already been found. The USGS geologists' work is based mainly on existing data, so they depend on cooperation with colleagues in other Arctic countries. Sometimes Gautier and his colleagues have had to fly halfway around the world to some countries' capitals to examine and analyze data on-site because the raw data is not allowed to leave the country.

Why Northern Alaska Will Never Be Saudi Arabia

Software from Germany has also been helpful in the search. PetroMod from Aachen-based Integrated Exploration Systems (IES) is a standard tool in the oil industry.

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