The Arctic — Our Last Energy Frontier

As the Arctic Ocean ice thaws, countries prepare to tap into the vast energy resources currently trapped beneath the Arctic Ocean. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that the Arctic could hold as much as 12 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its undiscovered gas, not including unconventional oil and gas deposits. Of that, the portion of the Arctic belonging to the United States could hold 33 percent of total oil and 18 percent of total natural gas in the Arctic.

The United States, though, is limited in its reach into the Arctic since it has not signed onto the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) treaty. Without that ratification, the United States, unlike the other four Arctic nations of Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark, is constrained to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles off their coasts. The other four Arctic nations, however, have asked to secure international legal titles to sites up to 350 miles off their coasts. Russia and Canada have even submitted claims that reach the North Pole.

Drilling in the Arctic could also be further complicated by harsh storms, drifting sea ice, poor infrastructure and a lack of available crisis response centers. On the other hand, Arctic drilling would take place at shallower depths than drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. In a positive push for Arctic drilling, President Obama signed Executive Order 13580 in 2011 to establish a coordinate efforts among federal agencies to develop energy in the Arctic. The order was intended to expedite future permit issuance and improve information sharing.

Shell Gulf of Mexico has made moves to be at the forefront of oil exploration in the U.S. Arctic region, specifically in the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea. The company also produced an extensive Oil Spill Response Plan to assure the government of their preparedness in case of an oil spill in the region. Fears regarding oil spill response in the Arctic continue as the Coast Guard admits to having no offshore response capability in Northern and Western Alaska. Due to harsh regional realities, Shell has currently only been granted legal permission for drilling between July and October.

While Arctic drilling may still seem like a dangerous opportunity, future technological innovations and improved Arctic preparedness and infrastructure will make such drilling a reality in the near future. The massive quantities of energy stored in the U.S. Arctic will stay there until we decide to take advantage of this opportunity.

Comments (3)

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  1. CRS says:

    You open with “As the Artic thaws, “.
    Do you refer to this summer, or have you not heard that “global warming” has ended and that we have entered a Solar Minimum that will last 30 years, making the Artic colder?
    If not, I recommend the book “Dark Winter” by John Casey –

  2. Bernie says:


    John Casey is the same man that suggested Russia took Crimea largely for it’s wheat production in the face of the coming winter – despite the fact that Crimea has virtually no wheat-producing lands. Apart from being inaccurate, it sounds practically crazy. It’s not his only blatantly incorrect claim I found in his interviews and writing. So forgive me if I put scientific consensus over his word.

    Global cooling or dimming, or whatever you’d like to call it is a very real phenomenon and will continue depressing the real effect of greenhouse gas emission for years to come. But realize that when you argue against man made climate change… A phenomenon that is stunningly agreed upon in science… it’s you and a few others against an army of scientists who have conducted thousands of diverse studies and arrived at very parallel conclusions.

    You are probably a policy analyst at best, uninformed citizen at worst. THEY are scientists. I know that oil companies pay well and fund studies that favor their agendas, but there’s no need to disrespect the real academics by doing their job for them.

    If you’d like to engage in an actual debate, I have plenty of sources to draw from. I’m not sure if the same can be said in your case (again, a simple empirical and symbolic example of why you are wrong).

    Great post Lauren! Very subjective and informative. American Arctic energy is a very interesting possibility and a promising one from a geopolitical standpoint.

    • Lauren Aragon says:

      Thank You! I definitely think that we’ll be hearing more and more about Arctic exploration as time goes by.