Preface. For many people, it’s comforting to know that about 25% of remaining oil and gas reserves (we have the know-how and economics to get it) and resources (beyond our technical and monetary capability) are in the arctic. They assume we’ll get this oil and gas when we need to, and delay oil shortages for a decade or more.
But they haven’t considered the difficulties of trying to drill for oil and gas or mine coal in permafrost. It buckles roads, airports, buildings, pipelines, and any other structures placed on top.
A Greenpeace report published in 2009 said thawing soil in Russia’s permafrost zones caused buildings, bridges and pipelines to deform and collapse, costing up to 1.3 billion euros (nearly $1.5 billion) a year in repairs in western Siberia.
Although there are ways to build roads that can withstand melting and freezing permafrost for a while, it is terribly expensive, and it is why we haven’t developed much oil or natural gas in Alaska besides Prudhoe Bay, as far north as you can get, with fewer permafrost issues.
The cost and energy of production in permafrost may mean that reserves are much less than estimated. Especially if they are developed when oil production begins to decline, since the price and declining availability of oil will mean there’s less energy to build roads, towns, platforms for drilling rigs and oil pipelines. And for agriculture, transportation supply chains, and all the other myriad ways oil and gas keep us alive.
As it is, climate change continues to exceed past engineering standards, and every year Alaska and Canada spend millions of dollars trying to fix roads, bridges, and other infrastructure.
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