chapter  2
31 Pages

Imperialism: the last great territorial scramble?

At around the same time that the Russian robot was at the North Pole, the US Geological Society was carrying out a ‘Survey of Undiscovered Oil and Gas in the Arctic’, the results of which further kindled geopolitical interest in the region. The much-quoted survey estimated that the Arctic contained 22% of the world’s undiscovered fossil fuels: 13% of oil and 30% of gas. This is in addition to proven reserves currently being extracted near the northern coasts of Alaska, Canada and Russia, amounting to 10% of the world’s known remainder (USGS 2008) (see Table 2.1). The US geological survey, carried out in conjunction with fellow

geologists from Canada, Denmark, Greenland, Norway and Russia, divided the whole area north of the Arctic Circle into 33 geologically defined regions. Some 90% of the unclaimed hydrocarbons lie in eight fields identified in the map in Figure 2.4; 84% of all the undiscovered deposits are off shore. Of these eight regions, three-Laptev, Yenisey-Khalana and West

Siberia-lie exclusively within Russian sovereign jurisdiction. The Alaskan sea region is under US jurisdiction, whilst Denmark has sovereignty over the East Greenland region, although economic authority is now devolved to Greenland itself. The East Barents region is politically divided between Norway and Russia; Amerasia between Canada and the United States, and West Greenland/East Canada between the two named countries. All of these eight regions contain a

Table 2.1 Estimated oil and gas deposits in the Arctic

Oil (billion barrels)

Liquefied gas (billion barrels)

Natural gas (trillion cubic feet)

Total (billion barrels equivalent)

Undiscovered 90 44.0 1,669 412 Known 40 8.5 1,100 240

Source: (USGS 2008)

range of fuels but West Siberia has by far the largest proportion of remaining gas and Alaska most of the oil. Containing estimated smaller amounts of hydrocarbons, but politically significant, are two huge regions spanning the North Pole area-Lomonosov-Makarov and the Eurasia Basin-much of which lies outside of the 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of any Arctic states and therefore outside of any current sovereign authority. Arctic oil is nothing new, of course. Commercial oil activity began in

Canada’s Northwest Territories in 1920, closely followed by ventures on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska and Komi and Nenets regions of Siberia. The 1968 oil discovery at North Slope, Alaska, was a landmark breakthrough and this site has already produced 11 billion barrels of oil/gas since that date. At around the same time, the Soviet

Figure 2.4 Map of oil and gas reserves in the Arctic

Union made several new major gas discoveries in West Siberia and the Russians have been the world’s biggest producer and exporter of that energy source since then. Off-coast drilling in the USSR, United States and Canada and also Norway (in the Barents Sea) then began to develop from the 1980s. The oil multinational corporations (MNCs) ‘supermajors’ and state-

owned energy companies have gradually moved further afield to explore these new options as Alaskan, Russian and Norwegian reserves have peaked. In 2011, after a barren decade, the Norwegian statecontrolled Statoil, in conjunction with private domestic firms Eni Norway and Petoro, discovered 150-250 million barrels of oil on the Skrugard Prospect in the southern Barents Sea. BP have been active for several years in the Canadian Beaufort Sea and the US government in 2011 finally gave the go ahead for Shell to explore the Alaskan part of that sea, having restricted this for several years for environmental reasons. In the Russian Arctic Ocean, Western MNCs appear to have been falling over themselves to secure access to new oil and gas fields in cooperation with the state-owned groups. In 2011, the French-based giant TOTAL bought a substantial stake in Novatek to develop the Yamal liquefied natural gas (LNG) field, whilst United States-based Exxon-Mobil quickly stepped in to form a strategic partnership with Rosneft to look for oil in the Kara Sea, when a similar deal with BP was scuppered by domestic opposition. Prominent amongst newcomers on the bloc have been UK-based Cairn Energy, which was quick to negotiate the rights with the Greenlandic government to establish four new rigs in the Baffin Sea.