Russia reportedly finds vast oil and gas reserves in British Antarctic territory

May 14, 2024
Rosgeo’s Alexander Karpinsky vessel said to have conducted surveys in the region.

Offshore staff

LONDON – Russia has reportedly found huge oil and gas reserves in British Antarctic territory, potentially leading to drilling in the protected region, according to the British publication The Telegraph and several online reports.

The reserves uncovered are said to contain around 511 billion barrels worth of oil, equating to around 10 times the North Sea’s output over the last 50 years.

The discovery, per Russian research ships, was revealed in evidence submitted to the British Commons Environment Audit Committee last week. The committee was assessing questions regarding oil and gas research on ships owned by the Kremlin’s Rosgeo, the largest geological exploration company in Russia. In particular, Rosgeo’s Alexander Karpinsky vessel is said to have conducted a number of surveys in the region.

Antarctica is currently under the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, which prohibits all oil developments in the area. The treaty was enacted to ensure that the region was used “exclusively for peaceful purposes” and would “not become the scene or object of international discord.”

The committee heard from minister David Rutley, who assured MPs that Russia was conducting scientific research in the region. “Russia has recently reaffirmed its commitment to the key elements of the treaty,” he said.

But some academic experts believe that the Russian research in the region is a prelude to hydrocarbon development. 

Klaus Dodds, a professor of geopolitics at Royal Holloway University, argued that Russian activity in the region equated to hunting for oil and gas as opposed to scientific research. “Rosgeo has been engaging in seismic surveys and other related surveying work … Russia’s activities need to be understood as a decision to undermine the norms associated with seismic survey research, and ultimately a precursor for forthcoming resource extraction,” Dodds said in comments reported by the Telegraph.

The British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office was reported to have said: “Russia has repeatedly assured the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting that these activities are for scientific purposes.”

Junior minister David Rutley last week told the EAC that his department had decided to trust Russian assurances it was just conducting scientific research, adding: “Russia has recently reaffirmed its commitment to the key elements of the treaty.”

Most of the British Antarctic Territory is subject to competing claims from Argentina and Chile – which are expected to intensify if the evidence from Russia’s seismic surveys are proven by subsequent drilling.