Discovery of oil in Antarctica?

Is the discovery of oil and gas resources in Antarctica new? OCIPEx raises the question, in a report that crosses the information published by BRICS News, about Russia's discovery. The answer is no.

17 de May de 2024 08:28

The Russian ship Alexander Karpinsky, from where the exploratory research was carried out.

A report of the last 24 hours developed by Manuel Valenti Randi, OCIPEx Director; and María Laura Civale Head of the Malvinas, Antarctica, South Atlantic and Cuenca del Plata Basin working group of the same organization; It lists since what years scientific studies of the Antarctic maritime subsoil and on the continent itself have been carried out, which countries have been developing it, what results were obtained and what the members of the Antarctic Treaty decided about oil exploitation in Antarctica.

The report:

 

Discovery of oil in Antarctica?

 

·          Is the discovery of oil and gas resources in Antarctica new?

 

Since the 1970s, oil prospecting studies have been carried out in Antarctica, both on the continent and in the Weddell Sea. Therefore, the answer to the question is no. At that time, interest came mainly from the United States and Great Britain to study the possibility of exploiting oil resources on the white continent, since there were different conflicts in the Middle East that made access to these resources difficult. The studies showed that Antarctica could possess these resources as it is within the same basins that had resources on the coast of Africa, Brazil, the Argentine Sea, the Malvinas Basin and the South Atlantic( 1) .

This interest led to the negotiation in the 70s and 80s of an agreement for oil and mining exploitation on the Antarctic continent between all the countries that were part of the Antarctic Treaty, including Argentina. This was called the “Convention on the Regulation of Activities Associated with Antarctic Mineral Resources” which was signed in 1988, but was never ratified. A 1991 study by the US Geological Survey made a resource estimate of 19 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 106 trillion cubic feet of gas, equivalent to 3 trillion Mm3 of gas, equivalent to 36 billion barrels of 'petroleum, mainly in the Weddell Sea, within Argentine Antarctica (2) . These data are very similar to those that are disseminated today as the alleged reserves found by Russia.

 

● Can hydrocarbons be explored and exploited in Antarctica?

That same year, in 1991, by agreement of all member countries of the Antarctic Treaty, the Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty on Environmental Protection (1991) was signed, which prohibits any activity related to mineral and hydrocarbon resources, leaving research safe. scientific. It is important to highlight the difference between scientific research itself and prospecting for the potential purpose of exploitation. This last activity is what has given rise to suspicions regarding Russian activities in Antarctica.

 

● Is it real that Russia discovered oil in Antarctica?

To this day there is no official information from the Russian government about these alleged findings. One of the sources cited is the BRICSNews Twitter account, which is not an official broadcaster. If prospecting was carried out with the objective of quantifying exploitable hydrocarbon reserves for commercial purposes, the Russian Federation would be failing to comply with the Environmental Protocol to which it signed. Another thing is that a country, like any other that carries out scientific activities in Antarctica, finds the presence of hydrocarbons or minerals in the framework of its research.

It is important to clarify that although technology has evolved a lot and oil is already being exploited in the Arctic, the conditions are not the same in Antarctica( 3) . The higher logistics costs, the great distance from the main consumption centers, and the greater difficulties for its potential exploitation, imply high costs.

Furthermore, the legal situation in the Arctic is very different from that in Antarctica, where there is no international treaty with the characteristics that distinguish the Antarctic Treaty.

So why is this stated? On February 22, the US State Department, two years after the start of the conflict in Ukraine, published a new list of sanctions against Russian entities, goods and people. Among those sanctioned companies is ROSGEO, “a Russian state-owned multidisciplinary geological holding company that offers geological exploration services. Within Russia, ROSGEO and its subsidiaries perform a variety of geophysical services in the search and exploration of oil and gas fields.” (4)

According to the ROSGEO website, comprehensive marine geophysical explorations were completed at least four years ago within the framework of the 65th Russian Antarctic Expedition in the Riiser-Larsen Sea, within the sector claimed by Norway in Antarctica. There they found, as in previous studies from other countries, evidence of the presence of oil and gas resources (5).

Within ROSGEO is the JSC Polar Marines Geosurvey Expedition (PMGRE) which, according to the State Department, is dedicated to mineral exploration and prospecting. This company also carries out scientific actions with its ships in the Antarctic region such as the Weddell Sea. Without going any further, the ship that carries out these activities is the Akademik Karpinsky, which is also sanctioned. The US document does not provide specific evidence of the Russian ship's irregular activities in Antarctica.

This ship calls in South Africa for its operations. For this reason, the South African media Daily Maverick published numerous articles from February 28 (6) onwards denouncing the alleged illicit activities in Antarctica of the Russian ship in the Weddell Sea. This territory is part of the Argentine Antarctic and is claimed by the British government as its own, based on the territorial projection of the illegal and illegitimate occupation of the Malvinas Islands and the South Atlantic Islands.

It is important to remember, in this context, that both Russia and South Africa are part of the BRICS bloc. This information was compiled by the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, which through the Environmental Audit Committee (7) requested specific reports from specialists in Antarctic policy and summoned members of the British Foreign Ministry and the Department of Polar Regions. , among others.

 

● What did British specialists and officials respond?

Klaus Dodds, perhaps the leading specialist in Antarctic geopolitics, wrote that “There is concern that Russia is collecting seismic data that could be interpreted as prospecting rather than scientific research. (...) Apparently, the Russian ship responsible for the activities, the Akademik Karpinsky, is financed by a state program organized by the Russian state company Rosgeologia” (8). However, it does not provide documentary support or primary sources for this potential claim that Russia would have carried out prospecting for commercial and non-scientific purposes.

When Deputy Foreign Secretary David Rutley was asked that his department had decided to rely on Russian assurances that it was only conducting scientific research, he added: "Russia has recently reaffirmed its commitment to key elements of the treaty" (9).

For her part, the director of the UK's polar regions, Jane Rumble, said that “there is no evidence that points to a violation of the treaty. Different equipment would be needed between surveying and actual exploitation, so that there is no change.” The official clarifies that "Russia has already been approached about this issue before and, in fact, has assured the ATCM (Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings) on multiple occasions that this is a scientific program, so we will keep it under review." ( 10) .

MP McMorrin urged Rutley to review the concerns and present them at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting taking place at the end of the month in India.

 

● Why is this “news” spread?

Antarctica has been the subject of bidding in different periods of history and was never alien to the prevailing international order. From the beginning of the 20th century when the first expeditions were carried out to explore the continent, until the middle of that century when, as a result of the formulation of territorial claims and in parallel to the development of the Cold War and its consequent bipolar order, He envisioned the need to regulate the continent obeying a logic of international security.

Likewise, once again the global geopolitical dispute is expressed in the Antarctic scenario. This is connected to the strategy of the Anglo-American alliance in the South Atlantic and Antarctica, which crystallized just over a month ago with Laura Richardson's visit to Ushuaia, concern about "illegal Chinese fishing" in the Argentine Sea and suspicions of potential "military use" of the Chinese space base in the province of Neuquén.

To this we add that the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has also been expressed within the Consultative Meetings of the Antarctic Treaty, an unprecedented fact if we take into account that it is an area that, unlike the United Nations General Assembly, was historically foreign. to conflicts by the representatives of the States Parties.

 

● What function does the Antarctic Treaty fulfill?

In addition to the prohibition of activities related to the exploitation of minerals mentioned above, it is important to point out some issues that are usually disclosed in a confusing manner:

- In addition to the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, 3 other related instruments were adopted that regulated other aspects of Antarctica over time: the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (1972), the Convention for the Conservation of Marine Living Resources Antarctic (1980) and the Protocol on Environmental Protection (1991). For this reason, we speak of the “Antarctic Treaty System” (AST).

- The Antarctic Treaty and its related instruments have no expiration date . Yes, it is possible to make modifications and amendments, but under certain requirements. The year 2048 is usually mentioned as the culminating point, but this refers to the possibility of reviewing the Protocol on Environmental Protection that will celebrate 50 years after its entry into force. Eventually, in that case, modifications could be made, but it requires a specific majority for its adoption (including ¾ Consultative Parties) which makes it difficult to comply with.

- Art. 4 of the Antarctic Treaty (1959) refers to the status of territorial claims. It is important to clarify that this article, also known as the “umbrella clause,” maintains the continent's territorial claims unchanged. This means that the claims made by only 7 countries throughout history have not been resolved (plus the reservations to be made in the future by the United States and today the Russian Federation); Therefore, they did not cease to exist. In pursuit of the peaceful use of Antarctica and scientific research, they were “paused/frozen” and new claims or extensions of those previously formulated are not admitted.

- The decisions of the Antarctic Treaty are made in the aforementioned “Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings”, where only the Consultative Parties (the original signatory countries of the Treaty and those that subsequently demonstrated scientific interest) and the Adherent Parties (the rest of the countries that do not demonstrate this interest are not part of the decision-making). There are currently 29 countries that are considered Consultative Parties and another 27 countries that are Adherent Parties.

In relation to what happened, the decision-making system of the STA is put to the test, where our country actively participates in compliance with the primary objectives of the Antarctic Treaty.

 

● And Argentina?

Our country is one of the original signatories of the Treaty and has an extensive history in Antarctica, being the country with the longest and most uninterrupted presence on said continent since 1904.

The sector claimed by Argentina includes the meridians 25° and 74° West longitude, from the 60° parallel South latitude to the South Pole. Our claim overlaps with that of two other countries: Chile and the United Kingdom. It is relevant to point out that together with Chile, since the 1950s, there have been joint declarations in which mutual recognition of sovereignty occurred.

With respect to the United Kingdom, the alleged portion completely covers the Argentine Antarctic Sector and the dispute with this actor is repeated just a little further north of Antarctica, where the Malvinas, Georgia and South Sandwich Islands are involved, along with the areas maritime rights, within the framework of a controversy that has been pending resolution for almost two centuries.

In the current context characterized by the dispute between several powers in the configuration of a new international order, whose presence is increasingly accentuated in the South Atlantic and Antarctica, it is essential to protect the vital spaces of our country through the implementation of long-term strategies in our foreign policy and with an economic model that tends to develop our capabilities with the objective of defending the national interest.

 

(1) https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/1991/0597/report.pdf

(2) The same.

(3) The Arctic, being a frozen ocean, is substantially governed by the Law of the Sea, while there are controversies in relation to the delimitation of maritime spaces between the States that have projections to the Arctic (Continental Shelf, Exclusive economic zone). Antarctica is a continent with a specific legal system and other actors involved.

(4) https://www.state.gov/imposing-measures-in-response-to-navalnys-death-and-two-years-of-russias-ful l-scale-war-against-ukraine/

(5) https://rusgeology.ru/en/press/news/rosgeologiya-vypolnila-issledovaniya-geologicheskogo-stroeniya-i -neftegazovogo-potentsiala-shelfa-an/

(6) Battleground Antarctica: US sanctions target Russian ship surveying for Antarctic oil and gas via Cape Town (dailymaverick.co.za) y Russia’s Antarctic ‘prospecting’ links via South Africa warrant deeper scrutiny, hears UK Westminster inquiry (dailymaverick.co.za)

(7) Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research - Summary - Committees - UK Parliament

(8) https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/124548/pdf/

(9) https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2024-02-28-us-sanctions-target-russian-ship-surveying-for-ant arctic-oil-and-gas-via-cape-town/

(10) https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2024-02-28-us-sanctions-target-russian-ship-surveying-for-ant arctic-oil-and-gas-via-cape-town/

 

 

 

 

By Agenda Malvinas

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