The Prospects and Challenges for Arctic Oil Development

The role of the Arctic region in global petroleum supply over the next decades is becoming a subject of increasing interest as the potential of the region’s geology is revealed and the shrinking of the ice cap makes drilling an increasingly feasible activity. Nevertheless, significant concerns remain, not least the potential impact of any hydrocarbon E&P activity in an environmentally sensitive region. In addition, the lack of existing infrastructure and the likely high cost of any development in geographically remote and climatically harsh conditions mean that the economics of any new project will depend to a large extent on the size of discoveries and the oil price, which, in turn, will be impacted by the development of other sources of oil supply (for example, US unconventional oil) and alternative energies. As a result, although increased activity in a number of Arctic countries suggests that the region could become a major source of future oil supply, there are a number of challenges – including the impact of sanctions resulting from the Ukraine crisis – to be met before this potential can be realized.

The objective of this paper is to provide an updated overview of offshore oil and gas developments in the Arctic and to discuss the potential for large-scale development of the region as a petroleum province over the next 20-30 years, thereby providing a starting point for future production estimates and for analyzing how relevant such estimates may be for global oil (and gas) markets. The paper argues that the most likely Arctic offshore areas to be developed first are the Barents Sea and the Kara Sea but that various factors – political, commercial, technological and environmental – have the potential to hamper petroleum development, particularly if the conflict between Russia and the international community continues to escalate, as partnership will be critical if the Arctic resources of the country with the largest geography in the region are to be developed successfully.

Executive Summary

By: James Henderson , Julia Loe