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Oil, Gas & Mining

Oil, Gas & Mining

Oil & Gas

Although oil production in Alaska dates as far back as 1911, it was the discovery of the Prudhoe Bay Field on Alaska’s North Slope in 1967 that really began oil development in the Arctic. Huge amounts of money poured into the state for the construction of the 800 mile long trans-Alaska oil pipeline in 1974, and production in the field began in 1977. To date, about 10 billion barrels of oil have been pumped from the North Slope. At about the same time Russia too was searching oil and gas in the Siberian Arctic, and in 1966 the Urengoy gas field was discovered which went into production in 1978. It is the second largest gas field in the World with an estimated 100 trillion cubic metres of natural gas deposits. It still produces over two hundred billion cubic metres of natural gas each year much of which is piped to Western Europe.

Sandbinskoya oil fields near Nadym
Many countries including the USA & Russia are now considering the Arctic as a viable future source of enormous energy supplies. It is estimated that the Arctic still holds 90 billion barrels of undiscovered recoverable oil, 1,670 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids. More than 70 percent of the undiscovered natural gas is thought to exist in three main areas - the West Siberian Basin, the East Barents Basins, and Arctic Alaska. Russia is already the World’s largest gas producer and much of the undiscovered gas in the Arctic lies within its territory.

All the countries that have Arctic borders, the USA, Canada, Greenland, Norway & Russia are eager to get at these natural resources. It looks like they may be helped by the warming climate and retreating ice which will make it easier to access the minerals that lie buried deep below the Arctic.


There is a rich history of mining in the Arctic. Gold exploration and mining was started by Russian explorers in Alaska during the early 1800s and that increased after the USA acquired the region. The Klondike Gold Rush which began in the late 19th Century and brought prospectors from all over the World to Alaska and Dawson City in Canada’s Yukon. Gold mining continues there today and over 12.5 million ounces have so far been extracted since its discovery. In the Swedish Arctic, open pit iron ore mining began at Kiruna in the 1890s and underground mining started there in the 1960s. Today, the Kiruna Mine is the largest and most modern underground iron ore mine in the world. The most northerly mine in the Arctic is to be found at 78°N on the archipelago of Svalbard ( Spitsbergen). The Norwegians and the Russians have been mining coal there since the 1890s.

October Mine near Norilsk
The mineral wealth of the Arctic is immense and mining companies are both prospecting and extracting a wide variety of minerals: coal, copper, diamonds, gold, iron ore, lead, nickel, palladium, uranium and zinc to mention just some. The Arctic’s largest mineral deposits are to be found in Siberia. The Norilsk Nickel company which mines on the Taymyr Region in the north central Siberia owns rights to about one fifth of the entire World’s nickel deposits, while the Siberian Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) has an estimated one quarter of the World’s diamonds. In Russia it has often been said that, “The future of Russia lies in Siberia,” and that is probably correct.

Text © B & C Alexander

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