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90 Billion Barrels of Oil and 1,670 Trillion Cubic Feet of Natural Gas Assessed in the Arctic

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Today, the USGS released the first publicly available petroleum resource estimate of the entire area north of the Arctic Circle. This area has an estimated 90 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil, 1,670 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of technically recoverable natural gas liquids in 25 geologically defined areas thought to have potential for petroleum.




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Jessica Robertson: Hello and welcome to USGS CoreCast. I am Jessica Robertson. There is an estimated 90 billion barrels of undiscovered technically recoverable oil in the Arctic according to a USGS assessment released on July 23rd, 2008. Today we are joined by USGS scientists Brenda Pierce and Don Gautier to discuss this assessment in the Arctic's resources. Thank you for joining us today Brenda and Don.

Don Gautier: Thanks Jessica. It's great to be here.

Brenda Pierce: Thank you Jessica.

Jessica Robertson: Brenda, first can you tell us what the USGS released today and what exactly this means?

Brenda Pierce: What we're releasing today is the assessment of the undiscovered technically recoverable resources north of the Arctic Circle. This will be the first ever publicly available resource assessment of petroleum resources that is oil, gas, and natural gas liquids of all areas north of the Arctic Circle.

The USGS has estimated that there are 90 billion barrels of undiscovered technically recoverable oil, 1,670 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable natural gas and 44 billion barrels of technically recoverable natural gas liquids and 25 geologically defined areas that we thought to be prospective for petroleum. 


The use of resources account for about 22% of the undiscovered technically recoverable resources in the world and we compared it to our world endowment numbers and it's about 22%. This is not the same for oil and gas. So the Arctic accounts for about 13% of the undiscovered oil and 30% of the undiscovered natural gas, and 20% of the undiscovered natural gas liquids in the world and about 84% of these estimated resources are expected to occur offshore.

But there is an important caveat in the numbers that we are releasing today. In the Arctic area, it has the caveat that this is irregardless of sea ice or the oceanic water depth. We assume that these resources are recoverable in sea ice and despite water depth.

Jessica Robertson: Can you tell me a little bit why the USGS conducted this assessment?


Brenda Pierce: The USGS is the sole provider of undiscovered technically recoverable resources. We do it for onshore and state waters in the United States. And then we do it internationally. And this was a normal part of our world petroleum project. We had conducted a world petroleum assessment in early 2000, released in 2000. And when we post-appraised that project we realized that the major part of the world that was missing was the Arctic.

And so we have spent the last few years looking at the Arctic because it has tremendous resource potential. We knew it was important but it's extremely challenging in terms of lack of data, in terms of how do you approach actually conducting a resource estimate in the Arctic. And so we're very pleased to be able to release those results today.

Jessica Robertson: So Brenda what exactly is technically recoverable oil?

Brenda Pierce: In the Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal we assessed all petroleum commodities - oil, gas and natural gas liquids. So the term technically recoverable applies to all of those. But what technically recoverable means is that portion of the resource endowment that is technically recoverable using today's technology and industry practice.


Jessica Robertson: So Don, can you tell me a little about the science behind the assessment?

Don Gautier: Sure Jessica. The reason the Arctic hasn't really been systematically assessed before is because once you get to offshore areas, there are very few data. And the area has never been drilled. There's very little seismic collecting up there. So the challenge for us was assembling large various scale models of the geology of the Arctic.

We had to begin by compiling the first consistent compilation map of the sedimentary rocks of the Arctic and we had to develop and analog database to bring in what we know from oil and gas of the rest of the world to allow us to constrain to create uncertainty and discover resource of the Arctic. We had to develop collaborative relationships with the number of other scientific organizations internationally in order to access the data that wouldn't ordinarily be available to us.

So it was great fun looking at really interesting uncertain geology, going back to original resources, gathering new data and trying to constrain the possibilities for resource in the Arctic.


Jessica Robertson: From your perspective, can you share with us the most interesting part of this assessment.

Don Gautier: For me, I think the most interesting thing was encountering geological places in the Arctic that none of us, perhaps nobody had ever really thought of before, from the point of view of oil and gas potential. As an example, there is a sedimentary basin in north of Greenland, called the Lincoln Sea Basin. There isn't a single well out there, not even a single refraction line out there. We were able to model it based on potential field data and one low quality refraction line and a great geologic model from generations of work done by Canadian and Danish scientists.

So it's been great fun finding these surprising places here.

Jessica Robertson: Thank you Don. And is there anything else you would like to share with us about this assessment?

Don Gautier: Two things really. One is I would emphasize that this is a very uncertain area and these are probabilistic estimates. There's great cone of uncertainty associated with them. The second thing that I would point out is how much generous help we got from a number of international organizations and individuals who have been above and beyond what they needed to do to help us do this work.

05:05Jessica Robertson: Well, it's been a pleasure speaking with both of you and thank you for joining us. And thanks to all of you for listening to this episode of CoreCast. To learn more about the assessment of oil and gas resources in the Arctic, visit As always, CoreCast is a product of The U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior.

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