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Vol. 12, No. 42 Week of October 21, 2007
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

USGS: 25% Arctic oil, gas estimate a reporter’s mistake

If you think the Arctic contains 25 percent of the world’s remaining undiscovered petroleum, you’re not alone. So do numerous writers, speakers and industry experts who have been quoting that figure since 2000.

Unfortunately it’s based on a misunderstanding between a newspaper reporter and the U.S. Geological Survey about the findings of a 2000 USGS assessment of worldwide, undiscovered oil and gas resources.

“We never really said that,” said USGS’ Brenda Pierce, who made a presentation on circum-Arctic resource appraisal at the Arctic Energy Summit in Anchorage on Oct. 16.

The 25 percent figure came from an assessment of seven oil and gas basins that were broadly described as “Arctic” in the USGS report, but which contained substantial tracts of land that were not, strictly speaking, within the Arctic, Pierce said. One basin, the East Siberian basin, lies entirely south of the Arctic Circle, she said.

If you deduct the East Siberian basin from the 25 percent, you’re left with 14 percent, Pierce said.

But because the 2000 USGS assessment didn’t include estimates of undiscovered resources from all basin areas north of the Arctic Circle, 14 percent could understate the Arctic’s potential, she said.

“Keep in mind that these (six basins) are very few of the Arctic basins,” Pierce said, noting the “Arctic was the big hole that we didn’t do” in the worldwide assessment.

Lack of data

One of the reasons USGS did not fully assess the Arctic in 2000 was because of a lack of data about the area, she said.

However, the agency is now in the process of carrying out a resource assessment of all Arctic regions, using available geologic information and a methodology adapted to a general shortage of well and seismic data.

“We have spent the last two years focusing solely on the Arctic, looking at how we adapt our methodologies,” Pierce said.

But, even as USGS completes its Arctic assessment, probably over the next year, don’t expect more than a very broad view of the petroleum resources the region contains because the geologic uncertainties are very high in the Arctic, and the technical uncertainties relating to the feasibility of oil and gas extraction are even higher.

“Obviously the Arctic has tremendous potential, but it’s pretty largely unexplored even although there are all of these oil and gas basins,” Pierce said. “Its resources are pretty poorly understood.”

—Alan Bailey



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