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|Asunto:||[CeHuNews] 24/06 - THE LAST FRONTIER by A.M. Samsam Bakhtiari ( leading world expert on oil reserves).|
|Fecha:||Lunes, 3 de Julio, 2006 10:55:20 (+0000)|
|Autor:||Alexander von Humboldt <cehumboldt @.........ar>
THE LAST FRONTIER
by A.M. Samsam Bakhtiari( leading world expert on oil reserves).
June 2006 in http://www.sfu.ca/~asamsamb/sb.htm
The international oil industry did coin the term of 'frontier area'
to designate the provinces it had most recently entered in its quest
for petroleum resources. As a matter of fact, in its four-yearly
Olympiad known as the 'World Petroleum Congress' [WPC], the oil
industry used to have a major panel session dedicated to highlighting
and reviewing the latest developments in such frontier areas. These
very special sessions were fascinating as they gave (in a pre-
Internet era) the first technical glimpses on the fresh regions about
to be tackled by the industry. Therefore, they were usually well
attended and I was amongst the legions of oil experts eager to be
given the early reports on these latest oil and gas provinces. I
remember never missing such critical lectures whenever I attended a
WPC; and, thereafter, I did collect the sessions' pamphlets in a
special file (alongside with the WPC pamphlets on 'Crude Oil
Reserves' and 'Natural Gas Reserves' --- with the latter ending in
the dustbin after I had finally met with Dr.
Colin Campbell and Mr. Jean Laherrere). It was in these 'frontiers'
sessions that I first got acquainted with the North Sea, Alaska and
most of the future Non-OPEC success stories (Oman, Egypt, Kazakhstan,
etc ) before being duly educated on 'unconventional oil' (Canadian
tar sands and Venezuela's Orinoco heavy oil) and the multiple
offshores ---first shallow waters, then deep ones and finally the
ultra-deep waters (e.g., Gulf of Mexico, Brazil and West Africa).
FRONTIERS DRY UP
By the mid-1990s, it had become evidently clear that the 'frontier
areas' had dried up; consequently, its WPC session vanished into thin
air. At first, 'frontiers' cancellation came as a surprise; but, it
was nevertheless a logical consequence to the undeniable fact that
there were no such areas left to explore !! The industry had by then
covered the whole globe both onshore and offshore --- exception made
for the two polar regions, the Arctic and Antarctica, which were of
course out-of-bounds and too far-fetched for any potential follow-up
(as me and my colleagues concluded back then).
POLAR OIL RESERVES
According to Dr. Colin Campbell, the world's most distinguished among
oil reserves' specialists, so-called 'polar oil' reserves are
estimated at a grand total of only 52 billion barrels  --- less
than two years' supply of current global consumption. Moreover, Dr.
Campbell predicted that total 'polar oil' output would average
roughly 1 million b/d [mb/d] in 2010 rising to 2 mb/d by 2020 and
eventually peak around 2.5 mb/d in around 2030 --- followed by a
rapid decline thereafter.
THE ARCTIC REGION
Towards the close of the 20th century, however, it began to emerge
that expectations about polar regions being 'out-of-bounds' were
unduly optimistic. Before long, the Arctic showed up on the oil
industry's radar and focused its interests. Within the past few
years, both oil exploration and exploitation within the Arctic Circle
have become reality --- with everyone having gotten used to it by now
(no more raised eyebrows anymore). It was yet another telling symptom
of how desperate the oil industry was to leave no stone unturned ---
even in the highly inhospitable iced waters of the Arctic Ocean. Of
course, costs would have been prohibitive not so long ago, but with
crude at its current 70$/b they are now readily taken in stride. The
US 'Arctic National Wildlife Refuge' [ANWR] and its '1002' coastal
area are constantly making headlines --- latest in date is the US
House of Representatives passing a Bill (by a 225-201 vote) to open
up the ANWR coastal plain to oil exploration . Also in Alaska, the
Mackenzie River Delta and the Chukchi Sea/Hope Basin/ Norton Basin
areas are in the process of being developed. Further east, other
prospects are the 'Orphan Basin' (north- eastern Canada) and
Greenland (six wells drilled off South Baffin Bay and a $25m
'Statoil' dry hole). Not to forget the Barents Sea with the
'Snoevhit' gas field (and its LNG plant), the 'Goliat' oil field
(with estimated recoverable reserves of 250m barrels) and Russia's
supergiant 'Shtokman' gas field (113 TCF reserves). Moreover, Russia
is developing the five phases on its Sakhalin Island with foreign PSA
partners (a.o., ExxonMobil and Shell). In addition, the 'Circum-
Arctic International Consortium' [US, UK, Canada, France, Norway,
Denmark and Greenland] has awarded the US Geological Survey [USGS]
and the Danish 'GEUS', a research program "to stratigaphically map
the Arctic and compile its original tectonics and oil source rocks"
 with results due in 2007: the 'International Polar Year' [IPY].
THE LAST FRONTIER
With the Arctic presently being explored, our small planet is only
left with one 'last frontier': Antarctica. Besides the southern iced
continent, sprawling over some 14 million square kilometers, the rest
has now been thoroughly tackled for oil and gas. It is to be hoped
that the iced continent will long remain off-bounds to oil and gas
rigs. The Antarctic Treaty (now signed by 45 Participating States)
calls for "a mining ban until the year 2048" . And there are good
reasons to envision that oil and gas exploration might prove tricky
in Antarctica as Mother Nature has made conditions down there so
extreme that even thinking of tapping its vast expanses makes one
shudder in disbelief. Not only is it the driest, windiest (peak gusts
of 288 km/hr) and coldest of all continents, but it is also dark 24
hours a day during its long winter. And, during its austral summer
(from early October to late February) it only provides a two-month
window for effective construction work. So that only the continent's
20 million penguins and a handful of other animal species have been
able to adapt to its inhuman conditions. It should also be borne in
mind that drilling into ice is a messy and very cumbersome affair;
with things not easier in the icy Antarctica waters. Not to mention
exploitation, with its continuous production imperatives and
downstream logistics of pipelines, storage tanks and transport by ice-
breaking tankers. But to a world thirsty for oil nothing looks
impossible --- especially when oil prices will have skyrocketed to
those stratospheric heights which are difficult to visualize today
but will leave us yearning for any benign two-digit prices.
ENTERS PEAK OIL
Whether we like it or not, all developed societies are addicted to
crude oil and its myriad derivatives. Many decision-makers are trying
to park 'Peak Oil' in the farthest corner of their minds (praying it
will go away), and remain in denial that there is no replacement for
oil but possibly solar energy (if it can be transmuted into a 'cheap'
energy --- now available for a very expensive $ 7,000 to $ 10,000 per
MW of output). Neither natural gas nor coal can easily take over; as
for the so-called renewables they will only provide energy niches
without ever being able to replace the massive mainstream oil use
(still providing around 40% of our global energy needs). But, as
worldwide crude output enters its inevitable decline, one cannot rest
assured that some oil industry executive will not take his chance
(against all odds) in Antarctica ! It is not the existing
international regulations that are going to stop anyone trying. And,
although only seven of the major Participants States in the Antarctic
Treaty have territorial claims, nobody seems to agree as
"all claims are now frozen... and few of the 45 signatories recognise
them and most countries build stations regardless" 
with some 40 national bases already operating and nineteen others
being planned (even one by super-minnow Estonia).
>From a total population of roughly 4,000 in summer, Antarctica drops
to around 1,000 people during its long and dark winter. Also worth a
mention is that the number of tourists is continuously rising and a
record 38,000 are expected during the current year.
In addition to polar-tourism, some fresh inroads have recently been
made in Antarctica. Firstly, the $ 20m 'Ice Highway' linking the US
stations of 'McMurdo' and 'Amundsen-Scott' (at the South Pole) is
being traced over 1,632 kms. of ice by the Americans (allegedly to
enhance scientific research and facilitate transport in-between).
Over the past three summers some 680 kms. have already been completed
and plans are being made to lay a $ 250m fiber-optic cable along the
'Highway' to transfer data between the two bases. Secondly, the
Australians are putting the final touch to their brand-new $ 46m
Wilkins 'Ice Runway' stretching over some 4 kms. to allow for
intercontinental flights by 2007. Thirdly, new sophisticated state-of-
the-art polar stations are being designed and built to become
permanent habitats on the Antarctica landscape. The British 'Halley
VI' base is being mounted on four '60-tonnes pods' which act as skis
so that the whole base which is fully-equipped
"with bedrooms, laboratories, and store rooms, as well as a gym, a
sauna, a games room, a climbing wall and a green house in which fresh
fruit and vegetables can be grown in nutrient-enriched water" 
can be displaced on ice to the contrary of its five predecessors
which were fixed and thus bound to be finally sacrificed (due to the
ice shelf's massive movements) and left to rot in the ice cap.
Fourthly, Australia has lately decided to claim the continental shelf
bordering its 5.6 million square kilometers territorial Antarctica
land (roughly 40% of the total landmass, clearly the lion's share) in
view of possible future developments. This strategic gambit might be
seen in the future as a timely and wise decision indeed.
Over June 12 to 23, 2006, some three hundred delegates from 45
countries did gather at Edinburgh to partake in the 29th Antarctic
Treaty Consultative Meeting [ATCM]. Among others at this meeting, the
'Site Guidelines for Visitors to Antarctica' were tabled (after seven
years of negotiations) and a delegate judiciously remarked that:
"issues affecting the Antarctic reflect on the rest of the world" 
In yet another parallel event, Australian Senator Barnaby Joyce, upon
his return from a four-week visit to Antarctica, did cause a furore
by declaring that:
"Australia should tap the mineral resources in its claim before
other countries get in first" 
"The desire may be to leave Antarctica as a pristine wilderness, but
the reality is that it is not going to be left untouched and
There are resources there, they will be exploited.
It is just the way of the world...
People are always going to be on the lookout to get them...
Once it becomes affordable for people to do this in Antarctica, they
will just turn up and do it, whether or not there is an agreement in
That all might sound rather pessimistic, but nonetheless quite
realistic as well ! Hopefully the question of affordability will help
push the first steps of developments further down in the future. But,
one day the Antarctica gold rush could eventually occur. Then,
Australia's overall responsibility for managing and regulating things
down there could be of critical importance for the iced continent ---
possibly much higher than her share of the potential bounty...
In just five years' time, the world will celebrate the Centenary
Anniversary of the South Pole conquest by the heroic Norwegian
pioneer Roald Amundsen (1872-1928) and reminisce once again over the
tragedy befalling Captain Robert Scott (1868-1912) and his courageous
companions on their return trip from "The Last Place on Earth" .
Within the past century, the planet's 'Last Place' has been gradually
transmuted into the 'Last Frontier' of humanity --- a fact that
neither Amundsen nor Scott could have ever dreamed of as they battled
the elements on their way to their polar goal. Back in 1987, world
consciousness rose to the challenge of 'Ozone Depletion' over
Antarctica and duly framed the Montreal Protocol  which brought
about the successful ban of CFCs. Now, two decades after Montreal,
one is left to wonder if Mankind would not be better off leaving its
'Last Frontier' to its millions of penguins, by placing it
deliberately 'off-limits' thus trying to ingratiate itself with God
Almighty --- Who doesn't need our graces, but delights in a touch of
humility. The final question remains of whether Homo Sapiens has
finally reached the state of wisdom that will allow him to make such
crucial decisions? Decisions upon which his survival on the planet
might ultimately come to depend! As for the planet's survival, James
Lovelock (the father of 'Gaia Theory') ventured:
"Save the planet?? We can't save the planet. We never could."
 See 'ASPO Newsletter #66' (May 2006) for the latest estimates
issued by Dr. Campbell on 'polar oil'.
 House of Representatives passed this Bill for the 'tenth time'
[!] according to the 'ANWR' website <www.anwr.org>.
 In 'AAPG Explorer' (issue November 2004) p.6.
 Barbie Dutter, 'Antarctic Cold Rush raises fears for last great
wilderness', 'The Daily Telegraph' (June 4, 2006).
 Andrew Darby, 'March of the building workers threatens
Antarctica', 'Sydney Morning Herald' (April 18, 2006).
 Catriona Davis, 'New job, Day one', 'The Daily Telegraph' (May
 See the 'ATCM' website at <www.atcm2006.gov.uk>.
 Barbie Dutter, ref.  above.
 Taken from the title of Roland Huntford's 1999 bestseller.
 The 'Ozone Secretariat' of the 'U.N. Environment Program' [UNEP]
can be found at http://ozone.unep.org
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