A color-coded map of undiscovered Arctic oil deposits. Darker areas of green indicate more oil.
Race to claim begins

The Arctic may hold far more oil than previously thought; as much as 90 billion undiscovered barrels according to a new study released today by the US Geological Survey.   The new amount, equivalent to nearly 20 years of US foreign oil imports, is worth over $11 trillion dollars at current oil prices.  One third of the amount may lie in Alaska alone, according to the study's authors.

The region also holds nearly 1,700 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 27% of known world gas reserves.  Counting known deposits already surveyed, total oil and gas deposits in the Arctic are more than 410 billion barrels.

The study, known as CARA -- Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal -- included only those deposits that could be tapped with current technology.  Future advances would likely boost the number further.  Researchers in Denmark, Greenland, Canada, and Norway contributed data to the study.

According to project chief, Donald Gautier, "The extensive Arctic continental shelves may constitute the geographically largest unexplored prospective area for petroleum remaining on Earth."

A geopolitical scramble for the resources is beginning.  Russia has taken steps to secure rights to the region, last year sending a nuclear-powered ship to map a possible undersea connection between Siberia and the North Pole.  This would allow the nation a rationale to circumvent the UN 200-mile limit of offshore resource claims. 

Seven other nations have claims for the area, including Norway, Sweden, Canada, and the U.S.  Earlier this month, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the nation intends to "defend" its sovereignty in the Arctic, backing up the statement with a plan to divert 8 military patrol ships to the region, along with a new deep-water port.

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