Monday, November 08, 2010

Russians Sound Warning on Arctic Seabed Drilling

For Russians to be fretting over the perils of Arctic seabed drilling seems incongruous given Moscow's thirst for northern oil and gas but maybe that makes it all the more worth heeding.

"  Shared by Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Russia and the United States, the Arctic may hold around one-fifth of the world's untapped oil and gas reserves according to a U.S. Geological survey. The past few years have seen a rush of activity in the region, with UK oil explorer Cairn Energy drilling for oil off the west coast of Greenland and Norway's Statoil, one of the world's largest offshore oil producers, pushing further and further up the Nordic country's serpentine coastline, drilling wells inside the Arctic Circle beneath both the Norwegian and Barents Seas.

...The rewards could be huge. Russia, the world's top oil producer with output of more than 10 million barrels of oil per day (bpd), estimates that its Arctic zone holds around 51 billion tonnes of oil, or enough to fully meet global oil demand for more than four years, as well as 87 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.

...But even as Russia opens its northern waters to exploration, there's reason to pause. In the wake of BP's catastrophic leak in the Gulf of Mexico this spring, Russian officials and experts warn an oil spill under the ice could turn out far worse than one in warmer deepwater climates. Arctic conditions -- remoteness, fragile ecosystems, darkness, sub-zero temperatures, ice, high winds -- make dealing with an oil spill a massive task.

It's not that a spill is more likely in the Arctic than in a warmer, deep-water locale, says Nils Masvie, a director at Norwegian offshore risk-assessment firm Det Norske Veritas. "But you cannot extrapolate and say the risk is the same in a cold climate. No, the risk is higher."

That's because it's so much harder to manage a spill and offshore emergency in the ice and dark. "" Sometimes search and rescue operations stop in the evening because it is too dark, resuming again at eight o'clock when the light returns. But if something happens on the Arctic Barents Sea in November it would be, 'OK, we'll come back for you in March,'" says Masvie.

It's hard to imagine the Petro-Pols of Parliament Hill saying no to seabed drilling in Canada's Arctic sector.   They should, but they won't.

Read more here.

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