The Geopolitics of Energy Insecurity: the Challenge of Arctic Hydrocarbons for UK Policy

Dr Richard Powell, University of Liverpool. This paper explores the interrelations of climatic changes and energy security through the shifting geopolitics of the Circumpolar Arctic.  In doing so, the paper considers how Arctic hydrocarbons should be managed to meet UK policy goals of energy security and a low carbon economy.

Given rapid climatic changes in the Arctic, the natural resources of the region are now being positioned as the ‘last energy frontier’.  At the same time, images of these environmental changes have circulated across numerous international media outlets, thus bringing the Arctic to the widespread attention of global publics.  This paper provides a geopolitical examination of these issues.

According to the Arctic Council’s ‘Arctic Oil and Gas 2007’ assessment, published in Tromsö, Norway in January 2008, the Arctic region contains over 5% of known global oil reserves and over 20% of known global reserves of natural gas (AMAP, 2008).  Most of these known reserves are in the Russian Arctic (AMAP, 2008).  More importantly, the USGS (2000) estimates that the Arctic contains 25% of global undiscovered hydrocarbon reserves.  Although this figure has been recently disputed, the USGS is continuing regional investigations across the Circumpolar basin to investigate its provenance, with further data expected to be published during late summer 2008.

This paper investigates the implications of these claims for UK energy security.  Due to future import relationships, the UK will become increasingly reliant on hydrocarbons sourced from the Norwegian Arctic.  Using the example of Statoil- Hydro’s Snøhvit gas field, the paper will investigating the twinning of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) extraction and the trialling of Carbon Capture and Storage technologies (CCS) offshore beneath the Arctic Ocean.

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