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RESTON, Virginia — The USGS estimates there are 1.8 billion barrels of oil and 119.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in undiscovered accumulations in the North Chukchi Basin, which covers an area greater than 135,000 square miles in the Arctic Ocean, more than 150 miles northwest of Alaska.

This is an update to a previously released 2008 assessment. The USGS periodically updates its global energy assessments to account for changes in understanding of the geology or changes in production or industry techniques.

These geological formations lie beneath the outer Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the United States and Russia, as well as beneath waters farther offshore. The majority of the area analyzed is beyond the Chukchi Sea Outer Continental Shelf Planning Area that the U.S. government utilizes to inform its offshore oil and gas leasing program. The Chukchi Sea remains withdrawn from oil and gas leasing. Some of the formations lie within the United States extended continental shelf as identified by the U.S. Department of State. This region is remote, ice-covered for much of each year, and far from infrastructure.

No petroleum exploration wells have been drilled in the North Chukchi Basin. The nearest wells lie 20 to 100 miles to the southeast on the U.S. Chukchi Sea shelf and are not productive. The geological framework of the basin was interpreted from two-dimensional seismic reflection data tied to those wells and correlated throughout the basin. The number and sizes of potential oil and gas accumulations were inferred from seismic amplitude anomalies observed in the seismic reflection data. Such observations commonly are used as reliable indicators of hydrocarbon accumulations in the Alaska North Slope.

The resources estimated in this report are undiscovered, technically recoverable conventional resources. 

Conventional resources are those that have collected into discrete accumulations that can be produced using traditional production techniques. These contrast with continuous resources, which are those spread throughout a rock layer and typically require enhanced recovery techniques such as hydraulic fracturing to recover. The USGS does not make economic assessments of oil and gas resources; however, due to the location and distance from existing infrastructure, it is highly unlikely the resources could be economically recoverable. 

Undiscovered resources are those that have been estimated to exist based on geology and other data but have not yet been proven to exist by drilling or other means. Technically recoverable resources are those that can be produced using today’s standard industry practices and technology. This is different from reserves, which are those quantities of oil and gas that have been discovered and are currently profitable to produce.

The new assessment of the North Chukchi Basin, which builds on the earlier 2008 assessment, may be found here. To find out more about USGS energy assessments and other energy research, please visit the USGS Energy Resources Program website.

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