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French oil supermajor: Arctic oil drilling doesn't add up

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

French oil company Total SA says the costs to be incurred from an oil disaster in the Arctic outweigh the potential resources that could be extracted.

Total CEO Chrisophe de Margerie told The Financial Times in an interview published Wednesday that the risks of Arctic drilling are too great.

"Oil on Greenland would be a disaster," de Margerie said. "A leak would do too much damage to the image of the company."

De Margerie said he's not entirely opposed to Arctic drilling in principle. Indeed, he specified that gas leaks were easier to deal with than oil spills. The company's main Arctic energy assets are natural gas-related, including a part of the Shtokman field in the Barents Sea.

Projects halted

Last week, a number of British MP's came forward with a proposal to halt all drilling in the area until a more rigorous set of safety standards can be implemented.

The French multinational is the first and largest company to speak out so forcefully on the issue, but in practice the industry has been slowing activity in the region for several months after underwhelming returns.

Earlier this month Royal Dutch Shell cancelled all further drilling attempts off the Alaska coast after yet another setback at one of its properties in the area. After seven years of trying, and $4.5 billion invested, Shell may start up exploration again in the spring, but has not given any firm indication it plans to do so in the near future.

London-based Cairn Energy spent more than $1 billion looking for energy deposits off Greenland's coast, only to give up after no economical deposits were found.

The U.S. government says as much as 20 per cent of the world's remaining undiscovered oil is trapped in reservoirs beneath the Arctic. The U.S. Geological Survey in 2008 estimated as much as 26 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 130 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in U.S. Arctic waters.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.