Why the Arctic Won't Keep Our Cars Running: Arctic Oil Reserve Potential a Quarter of Previous Estimates
photo by Baine via flickr
A couple of months ago we reported on how the Las Vegas firm Arctic Oil & Gas announced that the Arctic could contain 400 billion barrels of oil, a figure that would be more than double the largest conventional oil field in the world, Saudi Arabia’s Ghawar—an oil field, which, despite Saudi claims to the contrary, is likely in terminal decline.
Oil Potential in Arctic Revised Downward
Well, not so fast: According new(er) data from the US Geological Survey, that 400 billion barrel figure is a little bit high. The USGS estimates that the Arctic probably contains only 90 billion barrels of oil. Certainly nothing to sneeze at—it’s equal to Russia’s total known reserves—and an amount that could still easily lead to boundary disputes in the region as nations try to take what they think is their fair share. How Long Would 90 Billion Barrels Last?
The question I asked when I first saw the 400 billion barrel figure was ‘how many years at current consumption levels will this oil last?’. Obviously it would take time to extract all that oil, so the oil will last longer than my basic calculation indicates, but it’s a useful exercise to put it all in perspective.
The answer for the 90 billion barrels the USGS thinks the oil contains: Just about 3 years of current world demand. Or about 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil, again according to USGS estimates.
So, for those people out there hoping for a bit of petroleum deus ex machina, some vast new undiscovered oil field just revealing itself in the nick of time, the Artic isn’t it.