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Arctic Oil

Arctic Oil refers to any oil exploration or production that occurs in the far North. It is referred to as unconventional because of the complications associated with operating in the extreme weather conditions and offshore.


What is Arctic Oil?

Arctic Oil is usually defined as oil reserves found in Arctic-like conditions, characterized by ice, permafrost, and extreme temperatures.  Arctic Oil can be found both on and offshore but the vast majority (an estimated 84%) is offshore, in the Arctic’s shallow shelf seas.1

Oil produced in this region is normally considered unconventional because of the production techniques that must be employed to overcome the extreme environmental conditions2. However, the produced oil has mostly conventional properties. Oil in this region is produced using mobile drilling rigs, similar to those used in offshore oil production.  These rigs are reinforced for safety and have specially shaped legs to stand up against ice floes.3



The Arctic is estimated to be home to 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves, meaning that the region may contain as many as 90 billion barrels of oil3. The main countries involved in Arctic resource production are Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States.  More than two-thirds of the current producing fields are located in Western Siberia, Russia45

With increased global temperatures causing melting of the glaciers and improved technologies, many companies are looking to further their production efforts in this region.  It is believed that an estimated $100 billion could be invested in the Arctic over the next decade6

The Arctic is one of the world’s most fragile biological environments on the planet and therefore natural resource production in this area is met with concern and criticism.

Drilling for oil in the Arctic has unique challenges and difficulties. In certain areas of the Arctic, drilling can cause toxins, such as arsenic, mercury, and lead, to be released into ocean waters and threaten marine animals in surrounding areas. There is also an increased risk of oil spills due to factors such as a lack of natural light, extreme cold, moving ice floes, high wind and low visibility. The remoteness of drilling locations and difficulty navigating the harsh environmental conditions make spill response operations extremely difficult, if not impossible.


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External resources


International Association of Oil & Gas Producers


The National Petroleum Council

American Petroleum Institute

EU Offshore Authorities Group

International Energy Agency

International Energy Forum

International Maritime Organization

International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association(IPIECA)

Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)


Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies

International Petroleum R&D

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO)


Offshore Oil Magazine

Oil and Gas Financial Journal

Review of Environmental Economics and Policy


American Oil & Gas Historical Society


Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

New York Times

International Association of Oil & Gas Producers

The Brookings Institution

The Brookings Institution 2

UK Department of Energy & Climate Change


University of Michigan

American Petroleum Institute

The Heritage Foundation

Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska Anchorage


U.S. Department of Commerce

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

USA Today


BBC News

Business Wire


Occupational Medicine Magazine

The Annals of Occupational Hygiene Journal

Health and Safety Executive

International Regulators’ Forum Global Offshore Safety (IRF)


The National Petroleum Council

Surfrider Foundation


Offshore Energy Today

Penn Energy

The Economist

How Stuff Works

Oil and Gas Financial Journal

Duke University

  1. United States Geological Survey (2008). Circum-arctic resource appraisal: Estimates of undiscovered oil and gas north of Arctic circle. Retrieved 25 May 2014. 
  2. Gosden, E (2012).Overcoming Challenges of Arctic Oil Drilling. Telegraph.  Retrieved 25 May 2014. 
  3. Mouawad, J (2008). Oil Survey Says Arctic Has Riches. The New York Times. Retrieved 25 May 2014.
  4. Fillingham, Z (2009). Arctic Ownership Claims. Geopolitical Monitor. Retrieved May 26 2014, from 
  5. Radyuhin, V (2013). Russia begins oil production in the Arctic. The Hindu. Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  1. Permafrost is ground that continuously remains frozen for two or more years, located on land or under the ocean. Permafrost does not have to be the first layer that is on the ground. It can be an inch to over miles deep into the Earth’s surface.