Professor Frankel is in London to receive the Onassis Prize for Shipping this evening. The prize is awarded jointly by the Onassis S Public Benefit Foundation and Cass Business School. For more information on all three of the Onassis Prizes, please see attached release.
THE ARCTIC: The World’s New Economic Frontier and Opportunity for Development, Shipping, and Expansion
Ernst G. Frankel, MIT
The Arctic (Figure 1) has become the latest and possibly most attractive of development areas on earth and not just because of the immense, largely untapped resources that are becoming increasingly accessible, but also for the opportunities for shorter sea routes and greater accessibility to markets. Although much of the Arctic sea routes are still only accessible part of the year and usually requires special ice-class vessels as well as ice-breaker escort, more and more operators are taking advantage of the huge savings in fuel and travel time between major trading areas such as the Europe/U.S. East and West Coast and East Asia or NW Europe/East Asia trades.
Arctic oil and gas production is growing rapidly and shipping is usually the preferred or only way to deliver the energy products to markets. In 2011, there were 9 tanker voyages across the Russian North Sea route. A number of large ice-class tanker voyages from Arctic production fields to China, South Korea among others were performed in 2011. Though this service requires special vessels and support services, it is attracting a growing number of operators who recognize the long-term opportunities in these trades. Some compare it to a new gold rush (Table 1).
There is also a growing interest in the North West Passage across the north of Canada from Greenland to North Alaska which was actually explored by the Onassis-owned tanker Manhattan over 35 years ago.
The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, largely because of the Albedo effect which causes darker surfaces such as land and water to absorb more heat than white surfaces such as snow and ice. If some water is exposed, heat absorption will accelerate and cause surrounding snow and ice to melt. This effect is largely responsible not only for the accelerated greening of Greenland, but also the accelerated melting of ice in the Northern Sea route and the North West Passage. ExxonMobil agreed to work with Rosneft on a 500 billion dollar Arctic oil production development over a 25-year period. Arctic air temperatures have increased more rapidly in recent years. As ice becomes thinner, its rate of melting increases, so there is a double acceleration effect which causes extremely rapid melting of sea ice throughout the Arctic. There is also a large increase in soot and other carbon particles in the air which will have a huge effect on surface warming and therefore ice melting. As a result, Arctic sea ice is melting or receding much faster than predicted. Arctic ice melting will continue to accelerate at an even greater rate with losses increasing from 2% per year to over 4% in the next ten years.
Human development and use of the Arctic must be effectively managed to prevent a catastrophe which would not only affect nations bordering the Arctic, but the whole world. At the same time, we must recognize the huge amount of resources and opportunities which are opening up greater accessibility in the Arctic. Not only will the new shipping routes at the NW Passage and the NSR or Northern Russian Sea route greatly reduces distances and trading costs between Europe, North America, and Asia, but will open up new trading opportunities as well.
It is important to note that unlike other regions, the Arctic has developed into a cooperative region in terms of political and economic cooperation. In fact, the Arctic is a unique example of international relationships which puts the good of mankind first and considers global benefits and costs in a fair and just manner. In fact, the Arctic Council of Arctic nations have become an example of international cooperation.
The great opportunities and challenges of the Arctic have also generated new and effective developments of shipping, resource exploitation, and safety technology, such as new below surface offshore development platforms, dynamic positioning systems for deep water exploration and production, bottom placed tanker loading terminals and more technology particularly suited for ice-infested waters as well as new types of strengthened vessels capable of breaking ice. There is an urgent need for large, new ice-breakers and navigational aids as well as better Arctic support bases which provide both safety and environmental support facilities for unpredictable challenges.
The Arctic truly offers new and immense opportunities for mankind. This not only in terms of ease of access to natural resources and areas of expansion, but also as an opportunity for a more peaceful and just environment which encourages mankind to live a more peaceful cooperative, mutually beneficial life.
There is an Arctic council of representatives of countries bordering the Arctic which cooperates on issues of Arctic development, environment issues and use. This council has shown a high level of successful cooperation but usually found in international relations at this time. It is hoped that this will continue, as the Arctic is both fragile and rich and in a way man’s last major development frontier which will affect the world’s future state in economic, political, strategic, and environmental terms (Tables 4 and 5). This route cuts the NW Europe or U.S. East Coast, East Asia or U.S. West Coast (China, South Korea, and Japan route) to about half the distance, offering huge potential fuel and time savings. It also eliminates the large costs of transiting the Panama or Suez Canals.
The Arctic is also expected to offer huge new sources for energy and mineral resources which, though more expensive to access, produce, and mine, would be strategically attractive as they are under ownership and control of the major industrial nations and their development would greatly reduce dependence on OPEC and, most importantly, the Middle East and North Africa for oil and gas.
Russia’s fleet of nuclear-powered ice-breakers, largely based on Murmansk is expected to increasingly engage in supporting commercial trades in the Arctic region. The regulatory framework for the Arctic is also changing in like with both environmental and physical changes and new safety requirements. The SOLAS Convention rules of the IMO applying to the Arctic region are being updated in line with changes in activities, the polar environment, and new activities in the polar region.
While the emphasis is on safety, increasing concern is also with environmental impact. Both the SOLAS and MARPOL conventions are being updated to respond to the challenges of newly active polar shipping. In particular, aids to navigation need to be updated and new technology based largely on satellite navigational guidance is being applied.
Five nations share control of the polar region (Canada, Russia, Norway, U.S., and Greenland/Denmark). The latter’s nationality has yet to be finalized. Though 146 (oil and gas) fields have been discovered in the Greenland area, only 23 are currently producing. The remaining 110 fields will probably only be activated when reliable transportation and economic productivity becomes available. Greenland, twice the size of Germany, has a population of just 57,000, yet is nearly ice free now.
Developments of the polar (Arctic) region are now speeding up and many new resource discoveries are expected. However, the high cost and difficulty of access will make this a very slow process. There are high expectations that in addition to oil, gas, and other resources such as dry minerals and other commodities will soon be discovered and mined which will probably accelerate developments. The polar region may become a most important economic region. Although seaborne traffic and oil and gas production are now driving the interest, other economic benefits will soon be discovered and drive persistent economic development and access to this new development region.
Once more intense shipping and other economic activity develop in the polar region, urban and other economic developments will take place. As an example, Greenland, while ice-covered until a few years ago, is now largely green and fertile. Roads, housing, airports, and infrastructure are now being developed. The same applies to Baffin islands and many parts of Siberia, Alaska, and Northern Canada. It is expected that all these developments will move economic activity increasingly northwards. The polar region may yet trigger a new gold rush in human and economic terms and that time is not far away.
Postscript: The author is indebted to Ms. Mey Lee Soh, Chief of Planning for AET Tankers in Kuala Lumpur for permission to use the graphics and data presented in the accompanying figures.
Conclusions: Arctic Region, Here We Come!
Land or region of opportunity
Hard and difficult here we come now that we have a longer season and greater opportunity
Increased opportunities for the extraction of oil, gas, and minerals
New transportation routes and reduced shipping distances
New habitable land such as Greenland and more
New fishing grounds
Conclusion: Overall Arctic Outlook and Opportunity
The Arctic Region could be the last major unexplored frontier of global oil and gas reserves. Estimated 115 Bboe of gas reserves; 17 billion bbl of oil reserves and; condensates, under 3 billion bbl while 71% of it is believed to be offshore.
Currently, offshore production north of the Arctic Circle is not substantial but there is significant interest in exploration in Beaufort Sea (U.S. and Canada), Greenland, and Norway.
In the short-mid term, we expect majority of Arctic offshore exploration and development to be focused on Russia with estimated 3415 mmbbl of oil reserves, activity in U.S./Canada will be dependent on outcome of review of industry regulations.
In the meantime, Norway and Greenland remain optimistic that substantial reserves can be found and developed in their respective Arctic offshore regions.
In Russia, the key Arctic offshore basin for oil reserves are estimated to be in the Pechora Sea (3097 mmbbl) and Barents Sea (296 mmbbl) which are waiting to be discovered.
In Norway, the liquid production is expected to be on a declining trend while revolving to be a gas province.
In Greenland, estimated large oil reserve of 16.2 bn boe with Baffin Bay reserve comparable in size to the North Sea. However, no commercial production volume is discovered.
In Canada, offshore production and exploration is confined by numerous regulatory and legal impediments. However, oil majors, i.e., Imperial Oil, ExxonMobil Canada, BP, and Chevron have invested significantly to secure acreage in the Beaufort Sea.
In Alaska, the drilling focus is in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas which have 35% of active exploration licenses.
Given the increasing global requirements for energy, operators will still seek to explore and develop the Arctic region although O&G activity comes with significant environmental and technical challenge.
Source: Various sources and AET’s analysis.
Other than environmentally demanding for exploration and potential production, there are also other issues to be considered.
Problems connected to commercializing remote discoveries.
One region but five distinct countries, each with their own issues and interests.
United by technical challenges, cost issues.
Gas vs. oil-prospect sizes and setting.
Fishing and Shipping as much an intra-regional issue as who owns the OCE resources.
Non-Arctic Drivers: Gulf spill, unconventional gas.
Source: IHS CERA.
APPENDIX A: Arctic Crossing and Population Development
As the Arctic becomes more habitable and offers increasing resource developments, population moves into the region will occur. It is important to assure that this is done in a well-coordinated and environmentally safe manner not only because the region is extremely sensitive, in environmental and habitational terms, but also because it will lack human development support infrastructure for a long time.
It is important to prevent large-scale and rapid human intrusion into the Arctic before adequate protective systems are in place and not just to protect humans, but also the Arctic environment which is already undergoing a traumatic environmental change in physical, environmental, and biological terms. In fact, we may need a new code of civilization, different from that which we used in our equatorial developments.
Extensive cruise and similar activities may require a much more stringent set of behavioral rules then applied in less sensitive areas of the world.
Greenland, a land three times the size of Germany, has a population of just 57,200 in 2012. Similarly, there are few people living permanently in other parts of the Arctic, except scattered settlements of Inuits whose lifestyle and livelihood is increasingly under assault as a result of the receding ice and as a result diminished herds of seals, etc. and in turn other sea animals which for long provided the basis of their livelihood.
While there are increasing numbers of people in the Arctic serving large-scale oil, gas, minerals, and other resource exploitation projects, there are few permanent settlements and infrastructure to support permanent human settlement. There is an urgent need to develop plans for human settlement in the Arctic and it is hoped that the Arctic Council will soon develop plans for the long term and permanent settlement developed of Arctic communities.
Such developments cannot be left solely to the resource development companies and their supporters whose objectives are mostly economic.