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World's undiscovered gas and oil is largely north of Arctic Circle, geologists say

The most likely place for oil in the Arctic is off northern Alaska in the Chukchi Sea, the researchers report. But conservationists warn of drilling in the fragile environment.

May 29, 2009|Margot Roosevelt

A full 30% of the world's undiscovered gas and 13% of its undiscovered oil are estimated to be located north of the Arctic Circle, U.S. Geological Survey researchers said in a paper published Thursday in Science magazine.

The estimate is relatively small compared with known reserves in the major oil-exporting countries, but it is likely to greatly benefit Russia, which has the largest territory in the region, the researchers noted. However, they said, the most likely place for oil in the Arctic is off northern Alaska in the Chukchi Sea.

The study, presented by Donald L. Gautier and colleagues, is the first detailed, peer-reviewed and geologically based assessment of natural resources in that region. Most of the undiscovered oil and gas will be found underwater, on continental shelves, the researchers said.

The estimate comes at a time when a shrinking Arctic icecap due to global warming is making exploration more feasible. Tensions have risen among nations around the Arctic Circle over how the resources should be exploited.

Republican Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has endorsed increased exploration. But conservationists warn that plunging drilling pads into the frozen Beaufort and Chukchi seas and in Bristol Bay could open the door to a catastrophic oil spill in one of the most fragile environments on Earth.

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margot.roosevelt@latimes.com

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