Oil Production in the Polar Regions

in Non-Renewable Energy by

by Kjell Aleklett and Colin Campbell

Today, the Arctic Council’s eight foreign ministers from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Russia, Canada and the USA meet in Sweden to discuss, among other things, oil production in the Arctic. They will attempt to agree on a binding joint treaty regarding what preparations will exist in the case of an oil spill/accident. The amount of oil that is accessible for production is limited, and large fields are required for such production to be profitable.

The thing that distinguishes the polar region from e.g. the area between the UK and Norway is that the oil-bearing sedimentary layers are much older and have been subjected to more extreme conditions than those under the North Sea. It means that the likelihood of finding oil is less. So far it is mainly in Alaska that they have been able to extract oil but the reserves there have begun to run out. Some years ago the US Geological Survey, USGS, released a map of the possible oil-bearing areas in the north polar region. One of us, Colin Campbell, has experience of drilling for oil in the Barents Sea, and I have made a new estimate of the probable ultimate potential for oil production in the polar region.

Considering that we use 31 billion barrels of oil annually, this area can at maximum possibly supply 0.85 billion barrels (see figure), less than 3% of the global consumption. Finally, we would like to state that we support the indigenous peoples who say that that there should be no drilling for oil in the Arctic.

Kjell Aleklett is Professor of Physics at Uppsala University in Sweden where he leads the Uppsala Global Energy Systems Group (UGES).

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