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Undiscovered gas and oil in the Arctic Circle

This is the westward view along Van Keulenfjorden towards the West Spitsbergen fold-thrust belt, southwestern Svalbard. Rocks in the foreground and middle distance are Eocene sandstone beds of deep marine origin. Image courtesy of David W. Houseknecht, US Geological Survey

Researchers say that the Arctic Circle probably contains a full 30 percent of the natural gas in the world that hasn't been discovered yet. They also predict that the Arctic Circle holds 13 percent of Earth's undiscovered oil.

This oil estimate is rather small compared to the known amounts found in major oil exporting countries, so researchers do not expect a major shift in the world's oil trade. But, the location and volume of the predicted natural gas reserves inside the Arctic Circle is expected to greatly benefit the country of Russia.

Donald Gautier and a team of researchers made these conclusions after the United States Geological Survey performed a review of natural resources in the Arctic Circle, which includes the northernmost part of the globe and the North Pole. It is the first detailed report of this kind about the natural resources inside of the Arctic Circle.

Since these energy sources, oil and gas, are very valuable around the world, Gautier and his colleagues say that these predictions could have big economic impacts on Arctic nations, such as the U.S., Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Norway and Russia.

Their results suggest that most of the undiscovered oil in the Arctic will be found underwater, on continental shelves, offshore of northern Alaska.

But, the largest deposits of natural gas in the region are predicted to be in areas that both Russia and Norway claim as theirs.

This research appears in the 29 May 2009 issue of Science.