Russian exploration vessels have discovered vast amounts of oil and gas in Antarctica, an area where the exploitation of resources is strictly prohibited, and where only permitted explorations and activities are related to science and the scientific world. (Photo: Creative Commons)


Russian exploration vessels ‘discover the world’s largest oil reserves’ in Antarctica


Reports from Russian exploration vessels suggest vast amounts of oil and gas have been discovered in Antarctica, partly in areas claimed by the UK and Argentina.

The exploitation of resources in Antarctica is strictly prohibited. Only activities related to science are permitted, under the 1959 Antarctic Treaty that bans all mineral or oil developments.

According to British daily The Telegraph on May 11, the Russian research vessels’ operator Rosgeo (Russian Geological Exploration Holding) informed Moscow that there are reserves totalling 511 billion barrels of oil – or double all of Saudi Arabia’s reserves.

After news of the discovery broke, British Conservative MP David Rutley stated he would trust Russia’s assurances that it was only conducting scientific research, adding: “Russia has recently reaffirmed its commitment to the key elements of the [Antarctic] treaty.”

Experts on the region have warned that it was naïve for the UK to rely on Russia to stick by its obligations under the treaty.

According to The Telegraph, Klaus Dodds, professor of geopolitics at Royal Holloway College in London, said Russia’s activities were much more aligned with oil and gas prospecting than scientific research.

“The Antarctic Treaty now faces new challenges, especially from Russia, a bad faith actor, and from an increasingly assertive China,” he reportedly said.

“Rosgeo has been engaged in seismic studies and other related topographical work … Russia’s activities should be understood as a decision to undermine the norms associated with seismic research and, ultimately, a precursor to future resource extraction.”

To put the amount of 511 billion barrels of crude oil into perspective, Venezuela, the country with the largest proven reserves in the world, has access to 303 billion barrels.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, has reserves of 262 billion barrels; Iran has 208 billion barrels; Canada has about 160 billion recoverable barrels, although most are found in what is known as ‘oil sands’; Iraq has 145 billion barrels; the United Arab Emirates has 107 billion barrels.

Russia has 80 billion barrels of recoverable oil of its own; the oil in Antarctica would multiply its current oil reserves by more than five.

Experts say that could tempt Moscow to try to exploit those deposits – particularly at a time of war in Ukraine with Russia to some extent financially stretched.