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Arctic oil and gas reserves measured by U.S. scientists

May 28, 2009 |  1:41 pm

 A full 30% of the world's undiscovered gas and 13% of its undiscovered oil are estimated to be located north of the Arctic Circle, U.S. Geological Survey researchers said in a paper published today in Science magazine.

The estimate is relatively small compared with known reserves in the major oil-exporting countries, but it is likely to greatly benefit Russia, which has the largest territory in the region, the researchers found. However, they said, the most likely place for oil in the Arctic is off the shore of northern Alaska in the Chukchi Sea.

The study, presented by Donald Gautier and colleagues, is the first detailed, peer-reviewed and geologically based assessment of natural resources in that region. Most of the undiscovered oil and gas will be found underwater, on continental shelves, they found.

The estimate comes at a time when a shrinking Arctic icecap -- due to global warming -- is making exploration more feasible. Tensions have risen between nations around the Arctic Circle as to how the resources will be exploited.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has endorsed increased exploration. But conservationists warn that plunging drilling pads into the frigid Beaufort and Chukchi seas and in Bristol Bay could open the door to a catastrophic oil spill in one of the most fragile environments on Earth.

-- Margot Roosevelt