There are also several competing claims to extended continental shelf seabed rights. However, most of these claims, while potentially important for future resource development, do not involve the Arctic provinces currently believed to hold the most oil. According to the USGS assessment of undiscovered technically recoverable conventional oil and natural gas resources in 25 Arctic provinces, 70 percent (63 billion barrels) of mean undiscovered oil resources is estimated to sit in only five provinces: Arctic Alaska, Amerasia Basin, East Greenland Rift Basins, East Barents Basins, and West Greenland-East Canada (Figure 1). These provinces lie largely in the EEZ of one or more countries. Russia's West Siberian Basin is estimated to have the largest combined oil and natural gas resources among the Arctic Provinces: almost 133 billion barrels of oil equivalent (32 percent of total Arctic resources). However, it is thought that most of those resources are natural gas.
Source: U.S. Geological Survey
Arctic oil and natural gas resources are not evenly distributed among the Eurasian and North American continents. In general, the North American regions of the Arctic tend to possess more oil resources, while the Eurasian regions tend to be more gas-rich.
Beyond the economic and political challenges, environmental issues and regulatory permitting also figure prominently in Arctic exploration and production. Environmental issues pertain to the preservation of animal and plant species unique to the Arctic, particularly tundra vegetation, caribou, polar bears, seals, whales, and other sea life. Of particular concern is the capability of existing technology to handle offshore oil spills in an arctic environment; spills among ice flows and can be much more difficult to contain and clean up than spills in open waters.
Despite the many challenges, the recent activity on the part of ExxonMobil, Rosneft, Shell, and Cairn is evidence that interest in Arctic hydrocarbon resources is increasing. With most analysts expecting continued high crude oil prices, this interest will likely continue in the future. Timing of specific exploration and development activities remains highly uncertain. With major territorial disputes not likely to have an impact on resource development in the near term, producers still need to find ways to extract oil and natural gas in an economic and environmentally acceptable manner, something that has and will continue to differ across countries and development tracts.