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Facing the Arctic’s hostility is undeniably daunting. ExxonMobil recently listed the region’s unique challenges: remote location, changing ecology, icebergs, prolonged darkness, mobile pack ice, severe storms, permafrost, earthquakes, a sensitive environment and deep water. Regulatory caution resulting from the Macondo well blowout and significant new gas supply—especially due to the expansion of North American shale development—have further complicated the Arctic search. But the potential reward is as big as the challenge. The US Geological Survey estimates undiscovered Arctic reserves at 90 billion bbl of oil, 1,669 Tcf of natural gas and 44 billion bbl of natural gas liquids (NGLs).
The regulatory issues related to Arctic exploration and development will eventually be settled, prodded by rising oil and gas prices. And increasing demand will shrink today’s global gas cushion while Arctic gas is being developed, a job that will span decades. To fully exploit the Arctic’s resources, however, industry will need expanded access, continued technological advance and innovative operating procedures. And, of course, it will need capital in amounts that match the Arctic vastness.
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