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Editorial comment

The planting of a Russian flag on the floor of the Arctic sea last summer was more than just a stunt, it was an announcement to the world that the coldest region on the planet was now its hottest property. There is an estimated 90 billion bbls of oil in the Arctic region, 15% of undiscovered reserves, and a third of undiscovered gas reserves.


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The planting of a Russian flag on the floor of the Arctic sea last summer was more than just a stunt, it was an announcement to the world that the coldest region on the planet was now its hottest property. There is an estimated 90 billion bbls of oil in the Arctic region, 15% of undiscovered reserves, and a third of undiscovered gas reserves.

Russia’s claim to large swathes of this territory and its precious resources rests on the assertion, currently unproven, that its continental shelf extends under the Arctic connected by a mountain range known as the Lomonosov Ridge. If true this would allow Russia to claim much of the Arctic under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Russians do have competition however. In August this year the US and Canada launched a joint mission to stake their claim, while Iceland, Norway and Denmark also have valid claims in the area. The Danes, for example, make their claim through Greenland and have recently joined forces with Canada to try and prove that the Lomonosov Ridge is actually part of the North American continent.

The growing problem of international competition in this new gold rush recently prompted researchers at Durham University’s International Boundaries Research Unit to draw up a map dividing the Arctic region between the six nations involved. The map uses seabed data and the rules of existing agreements and treaties to show those areas where each country’s claims are quite secure and those where they are open to being contested. It is unlikely that disputes over Arctic ownership will go beyond the diplomatic and legal arenas (even considering the current bullish mood of the Russian bear) but they will nevertheless be hotly contested in coming years.

Exploration in the domestic US is also big news right now. As Barack Obama and John McCain start grappling with the energy question in the run-up to the general election it looks like renewed drilling in US offshore waters will soon become a reality. President Bush has already lifted the executive’s ban on coastal drilling, though the Congressional ban remains to block it. McCain has always supported the lifting of the ban while Obama recently changed his stance on the issue, saying that ‘domestic oil exploration has its place’ in his energy plans. With a recent CNN poll showing 69% of the US public in support of drilling, how much longer can Congress hold out?

In this issue of Hydrocarbon Engineering two articles, Gordon Cope’s ‘Trouble in tar land’ (p.26) and KBR’s ‘Going for gold’ (p.32) both explore the trials, tribulations and ultimate rewards of oil production from tar sands. These three movements, the race to the Arctic, the question of domestic drilling in America, and the development of oilsands projects, clearly illustrate what has fast become an industry mantra, that the of age cheap and easy to extract oil and gas are long, long gone. Yet the world’s dependency on these resources remains, and so without a rapid and fundamental shift in the way we produce energy and fuel our vehicles it is imperative new sources of oil and gas are located and exploited. Whatever the outcome of the Arctic disputes and the US elections, drilling for oil and gas, both onshore and offshore, will be as much a part of the world’s future as it has been its past. Harsh environments and difficult-to-access reserves, together with ever-present environmental concerns, will continue to push innovation and new developments in this field. In order to better serve this burgeoning industry, in just over a week the inaugural edition of our new sister publication, Oilfield Technology Magazine, will be published. If you have an interest in this side of the business, make sure you register to receive your copy at www.oilfieldtechnology.com