US specialists say Arctic drilling is crucial to oil supply

Oil exploration in the arctic region could be crucial in the long-term and some experts agree that the U.S. should take every opportunity to tap this energy resource to assure the country a continuous oil supply in the distant future.

U.S. Geological Survey reveals that more than 12 percent of the earth’s untapped oil is embedded beneath the arctic. In terms of barrels of oil, this is equivalent to about 90 billion.

The Center for New American Security disclosed, however, that it will take about a decade before U.S. consumers benefit from arctic oil. The harsh conditions in the area would certainly call for huge oil investments from companies who will conduct drilling and oil exploration.

But despite the huge capital outlay, firms are still investing in oil exploration within the region to secure future supply.  According to Director Robert Johnston of Global and Natural Energy Resources Practice, oil from the arctic should always be viewed as a huge buffer in case conditions in the Middle East adversely affect global supply. Moreover, onshore oil reserves will certainly taper off at some point in time.

Johnston added that, at present, it would be premature to quantify how crucial arctic oil will be in the future, but exploration in the arctic has become part of some giant oil firms’ long-term strategies. Royal Dutch Shell, for instance, is just waiting for its license to operate in the region.

For the past few years, the number of oil companies who did invest in oil exploration in the arctic has gone up significantly.  To some extent, new technology as well as melting of glaciers has enabled explorers to access these resources.

While some groups have shown support for arctic drilling, others say that the U.S. must pay more attention to exploring other viable oil resources. Senior research fellow from Chatham House, Charles Emmerson, said the country should focus on shale production and opined that the arctic region wouldn’t be that significant in terms of securing oil and gas supply.

Some analysts also predict that the possibility of an oil spill in the region could pose far greater threat to the environment.

A group of residents in Alaska have been on guard since the Exxon-Valdez oil spill occurred more than 20 years ago at Prince William Sound. More than 10 million gallons of spilled crude damaged the area’s ecosystem.

But for Emmerson, the huge damage is not limited to the ecosystem of a particular region.  The effect on the industry’s reputation could be damaging as well.

People may lose their trust he said.  A single, huge oil disaster in the arctic may crush the entire industry.