Arctic Directory: Investing in the Arctic

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"the Arctic contains a huge resource cache, presenting an assortment of business opportunities for the hardy, long-term investor."

The Arctic is said to outrank many of the globe's current exploration hot spots; but don't expect companies to flock to the Far North anytime soon.

Still, by just about anyone's estimation, including the United States Geological Survey, the Arctic contains a huge resource cache, presenting an assortment of business opportunities for the hardy, long-term investor.

The Arctic, which can be defined as everything above the Arctic Circle (66 degrees 33 minutes north), has five countries on its border: United States (Alaska), Canada, Norway, Denmark (including Greenland) and Russia. Much of the Arctic is ice-covered ocean and treeless frozen tundra.

Recently the USGS dramatically increased its estimate of oil-equivalent Arctic reserves to upward of 160 billion barrels from 90 billion barrels, with 30% of the world's undiscovered natural gas reserves and 13% of its undiscovered oil entombed beneath continental shelves and retreating ice caps.

A 2006 joint study by energy research firms Wood Mackenzie and Fugro-Robertson, entitled "Future of the Arctic," concluded that under the most optimistic scenario, production from the Arctic could contribute some 4.6 million barrels of oil per day and 9.7 million barrels of oil-equivalent (gas) per day at peak—considerably less than previous estimates. However, these estimates were limited to accessible resources, primarily extensions from coastal areas.

"Any study shows that there is a great resource there. . .but it's an expensive and complicated resource and also a long-term one," said Alan Murray, product manager for Wood Mackenzie Exploration Service.

As for limiting the study's research footprint, he added, "the more remote areas don't make as much sense as the more near-shore areas which have plenty of resource and plenty of prospects. I think there are plenty of opportunities that are well within the existing reach."

Experts generally agree that natural gas, in contrast to oil, likely will be the major play and largest business opportunity in many regions of the Arctic. Russia, with the largest position of any nation on the Arctic Circle, is believed to harbor the majority of untapped gas reserves, with Alaska and Greenland being roughly of similar resource density.

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