Arctic’s central to US energy independence

In recent years, Arctic waters have drawn growing attention on behalf of several governments, particularly Russia, Canada and the United States. Thanks to its supposed large natural resources, the Arctic has become a major geopolitical and national security issue. A 2008 US Geological Survey (USGS) Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal said the region has 412 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) in global undiscovered potential, whose 84 percent is estimated to be offshore: 90 billion barrels of oil, 1,669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.

According to the latest study produced by the National Petroleum Council (NPC), the advisory branch of the US Department of Energy (DOE), “the USA should facilitate exploration in the offshore Alaskan Arctic now” in order to “remain globally competitive and to be positioned to provide global leadership and influence in the Arctic.” Although the oil prices halved since July 2014, they could be soaring back as global demand for oil is expected to rise inevitably in the next decades. That’s why, the NPC summarized, new sources of oil, including the Arctic’s, must be explored and developed. This NPC report that therefore sounds very favorable to further development in the Arctic region will certainly be whetting energy companies and investor appetites.

However, Secretary of Energy Ernest J. Moniz specifically requested advice about “technology needed for prudent development of Arctic oil and gas resources,” because there is still real environmental concern that an oil spill in the Arctic may neither be contained nor cleaned up. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) listed several events that illustrated “like nothing better just how dangerous it is to drill in the Arctic,” and stressed in a 2012 report that “too little is known about Arctic ecosystems to predict response to spills.” Nevertheless and considering what’s at stake in the Arctic, from both economic and geopolitical viewpoints, environmental considerations could easily be driven to the background.