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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>


by A.M. Samsam Bakhtiari( leading world expert on oil reserves). 

June 2006 in


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).


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).


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 [1] --- 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.


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 [2]. 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" 
[3] with results due in 2007: the 'International Polar Year' [IPY].


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" [4]. 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.


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" [5]

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" [6]

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" [7]

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" [8]

arguing that:

"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 
place" [9]

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" [10].

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 [11] 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."


[1] See 'ASPO Newsletter #66' (May 2006) for the latest estimates 
issued by Dr. Campbell on 'polar oil'. 
[2] House of Representatives passed this Bill for the 'tenth time' 
[!] according to the 'ANWR' website <>;. 
[3] In 'AAPG Explorer' (issue November 2004) p.6. 
[4] Barbie Dutter, 'Antarctic Cold Rush raises fears for last great 
wilderness', 'The Daily Telegraph' (June 4, 2006). 
[5] Andrew Darby, 'March of the building workers threatens 
Antarctica', 'Sydney Morning Herald' (April 18, 2006). 
[6] Catriona Davis, 'New job, Day one', 'The Daily Telegraph' (May 
15, 2006). 
[7] See the 'ATCM' website at <>;. 
[8] Barbie Dutter, ref. [4] above. 
[9] Ibid.
[10] Taken from the title of Roland Huntford's 1999 bestseller. 
[11] The 'Ozone Secretariat' of the 'U.N. Environment Program' [UNEP] 
can be found at 

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