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Bureau Seminar, February 11, 2011

The petroleum potential of Antarctica: a continent too far?

Link to streaming video TBA: available 02.11.2011 at 8:55am

Dr. David MacdonaldDavid Macdonald
Dr. David Macdonald
University of Aberdeen

University of Aberdeen

Oil and gas are found on every continent, so it is reasonable to expect that they could be found in Antarctica. However, three areas are debated: 1. The possibility of making the whole continent a no-go area for oil exploration by political treaty; 2. the nature and extent of any such deposits; and 3. whether or not anyone has a serious intention to explore for and ultimately exploit them. Most of the debate on Antarctic energy resources is ill-informed, mis-using terms such as "reserves". Inaccurate articles by journalists have led to inaccurate statements and policy developments by governments.

"Minerals activities" are banned under the Madrid Protocol of 1992. This protocol is an extension of the highly successful Antarctic treaty of 1959. Although the treaty has been a success, it is legitimate to question whether it will continue to succeed against a background of increasing demand for resources. In this talk I will consider the geological evidence for the various elements of the petroleum system: source, maturation, reservoir, seal and trap. This focuses attention on the Ross and Weddell seas which are the only areas where basins are extensive enough to host large accumulations of oil or gas. I will show that no serious oil or gas exploration has been conducted around the continent; likely areas are restricted to the Ross and Weddell embayments; the petroleum potential is unproven (but likely to be low). Coupled with the difficulties of working in the harsh environment, it is unlikely that any exploration will occur in the future.



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