COLUMN-Russia's tantalising Arctic oil and gas deposits: Kemp

Thu Nov 8, 2012 11:17am EST
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By John Kemp

LONDON Nov 8 (Reuters) - Some of the world's largest undiscovered oil and gas deposits lie under shallow seas on the broad continental shelves off the northern coasts of Alaska, Canada and especially Russia -- a tantalising prize for the major international oil companies, but once which has so far eluded them.

"The extensive Arctic continental shelves may constitute the geographically largest unexplored prospective area for petroleum remaining on Earth," according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

"The Arctic Circle encompasses about 6 percent of the Earth's surface, an area of more than 21 million square kilometres, of which almost 8 million square kilometres is onshore and more than 7 million square kilometres is (offshore) on continental shelves under less than 500 metres of water," USGS explained in 2008.

USGS estimated the region's undiscovered but technically recoverable oil resources at 90 billion barrels of oil, with another 1,669 trillion cubic feet of gas (278 billion barrels of oil equivalent) and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.

The Arctic accounts for 15 percent of the world's undiscovered oil, according to USGS assessments, but a massive 30 percent of the world's undiscovered gas (excluding shale and other unconventional gas plays).

Some of the deposits lie onshore in Alaska and Canada, or on the continental shelf claimed by the United States and Canada. Others lie onshore in Russia's West Siberian and Timan-Pechora sedimentary basins, where deposits like the super-giant Urengoy gas field (Gazprom) and Russkoye heavy crude field (TNK-BP) have been developed over the last 30 years.

But there are thought to be vast deposits of condensate-rich natural gas in the string of huge sedimentary basins along the wide continental shelf on Russia's northern coast. From west to east: the Barents Sea on the border with Norway, the Kara, Laptev and East Siberian seas off Russia's remote north, and the Chukchi Sea bordering Alaska.   Continued...