Thursday, February 21, 2008

Arctic Oil: U.S. Gets With the Programme

New maps of the Alaska arctic continental slope show that the slope extends about 185 km further from the coast than previously thought. This makes a huge difference to how much territory the U.S can now claim for oil rights. In a previous post I had written about the geo-political situation around the Arctic ocean. Russia, EU, Denmark, Canada and the U.S are all slugging it out to carve the biggest barrels out of the arctic sea-bed oil. The law of the sea give countries exclusive mineral rights up to a distance of 200 nautical miles from their coasts. The U.S is yet to ratify this treaty and the recent discovery may provide Congress with the push needed to do so. A lot of oil is though to lie beyond this exclusive zone, and with the Arctic ocean becoming ice-free in the summers, countries are now scrambling to show that geologically their continents extend beyond this zone. This would according to an exception in the law of the sea treaty give them additional rights. Russia says geology proves that the Lomonosov ridge is part of their slope, but I think Denmark can make an equally convincing claim. The geological situation is seen in the image below.

Credit: NOAA

The current U.S claim is almost certainly going to be challenged by the Canadians. Below is an image of the U.S claim, polygonal area marks out the extension of the Alaskan continental slope.

Credit: UNH/NOAA

Estimates vary about the total arctic reserves but the more optimistic one's place about 25% of the world's undiscovered oil and natural gas in the these frigid depths. The director of NOAA's Office of Coast Survey had this to say about the new maps:

"These are entirely new insights into what the ocean bottom looks like. The data will be used to gain a better understanding of many things, including ecosystems and climate circulation models."

Hmmm.... somehow I think oil and not ecosystems will be given priority!

So, here's how this is going to work. Global warming is clearing up Arctic ice, giving access for more exploration and development of oil and natural gas deposits, which in turn will add to further global warming.

What a great scenario!

1 comment:

  1. Have you heard explainations for thinning artic ice? By the way '08 turned out to have more ice than '07. Wind is one of the latest explainations.

    My thoughts are that the Artic is a small ocean with poor circulation and fairly shallow. There is a spreading ridge with some large eruptions reported last summer. So I would look to see if the ice is melting from below or above.