Arctic Oil & Gas, Corp., a petroleum exploration company, shared some of its findings to date on the potential of the resources that may lie beneath the Arctic Commons.
It is widely thought that large deposits of oil and gas await development and discovery above the Arctic Circle. As global interest in the hydrocarbon potential of the Circum-Arctic increases, it is becoming vital to unravel the complex geological history of the region.
A possible source rock may have been found in 2004 by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) that recovered 400m of core from the Lomonosov Ridge that bisects the Arctic Ocean. This ridge is a high-standing, narrow sliver possibly of European continental crust that rifted away in the early Tertiary. The cores contain a Paleocene to early Eocene organic-rich condensed section. Within this condensed section is the Azolla horizon. IODP found more than eight meters of core composed almost completely of a plant known as Azolla, a floating fern found in fresh water tropical lakes and ponds. Dr. Jonathan Bujak, recently appointed to Arctic Oil & Gas Corp.'s advisory board, has been able to confirm the Azolla interval in more than 50 Arctic wells from northern Alaska, the Canadian Beaufort and the Chukchi Sea.
The Azolla interval has Total Organic Carbon (TOC) values of over 5% at the ODP Lomonosov site. The indications are that the Azolla interval could indeed be an Arctic-wide source rock. Preliminary estimates from modern Azolla suggest that it may be able to absorb up to 1,000kg of nitrogen and 6,000kg of carbon per acre each year. As the Arctic Azolla event lasted for 800,000 years and may have covered an area of up to four million square kilometres, or nearly a billion acres, it can be seen that widespread floating mats of Azolla in the Arctic Ocean during the Middle Eocene could have absorbed sufficient carbon to strongly reduce the levels of atmospheric CO2 while providing the source for large petroleum deposits.
The recovery of thick source rocks on Lomonosov Ridge, some of which are oil-prone, together with tectonic reconstructions that indicate the Arctic Ocean reached its present configuration in the early Cretaceous, are positive indications that Paleocene to Eocene source rocks may be present beneath the entire Arctic Ocean.
To date, around 550 oil and gas fields have been found in the Arctic basins. The area also boasts several world class petroleum provinces, namely northern Alaska, East Barents Sea, and the South Kara/Yamal basins. The Arctic oil and gas fields represent discovered resources (according to an IHS study) exceeding 350 Bboe (56 Bm3) or about 15% of the world's known discovered hydrocarbon reserves. The largest field yet discovered with about 70 Bboe (11 Bm3) is the Urengoyskoye field, the second largest gas field in the world. At 17 Bb recoverable oil (2.7 Bm3), Prudhoe Bay in northern Alaska is the largest oil field yet discovered in the Arctic. Even with these successes, the region's abyssal basins remain promising untested frontier basin plays.
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