Friday, July 23, 2010

Should we drill for oil and gas in Antarctica?

First things, first:  Is there any oil there?

It appears that there is oil and gas in Antarctica.  In fact, there's a whole bunch of the stuff down there:

Antarctica is considered to be part of the theoretical super-continent known as Gondwanaland, which separated near the end of the Paleozoic era and consisted of South America, Africa and Australia. And, because it once was completely covered in vegetation, many scientists believe it may hold one of the last supergiant oil fields yet to be discovered. The continental shelf of Antarctica is considered to hold the region's greatest potential for oil exploration projects, and although estimates vary as to the abundance of oil in Antarctica, the Weddell and Ross Sea areas alone are expected to possess 50 billion barrels of oil - an amount roughly equivalent to that of Alaska's estimated reserves. However, Antarctica's extreme conditions make oil field accessibility in many areas economically problematic.

Nevertheless, following the energy crisis of the 1970s, several oil companies looked to Antarctica as a possible solution to future world oil shortages by announcing plans to exploit the continent's resources. The necessary conditions for economically-sound oil production projects were beginning to ripen along with high oil prices and demand, and improved drilling technology. However, Antarctica's extreme conditions make oil field accessibility in many areas economically problematic.

That's 50 billion barrels, as estimated in the 1970's, based on 1970's estimating techniques, which themselves are based in part on 1970's drilling and extraction technology.  Chances are good that there's much, much more extractable oil than that down there.  And, that's just the offshore fields.  No one really knows what the landside geology is really like.  There might be many times more oil, gas and coal beneath the one-lush landscape.

Unfortunately, all that black gold is off limits.  For now.  The developed world accepted the 1991 Madrid Protocol, a treaty that went into effect in 1998 and which bans exploration for oil, gas and other minerals in Antarctica until 2048. That's only 32 years from now, which is about the time for an infant born today to have reached the educational and work experience necessary to be the Master Driller on the first Antarctic exploratory well. 

China and Russia were both signatories to the Madrid Protocol, but who really thinks those two countries are going to wait until oh, 2044 to begin staking out parts of the continent for oil and gas exploration?  

Guess what, sports fans.

Gimme some feedback in the comments.


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