Burning off impure gas

Photo Essay - Arctic minerals

With the traditional oil and gas fields depleted, the search for new carbon fuels and minerals has moved to the frozen wastes of the Arctic

As resources become scarce, companies are being forced to explore ever more inhospitable locations to extract fuels and minerals. There can be no more inhospitable region than the Arctic, but that has become the new frontier for oil, gas and mining operations. Oil production from Alaska dates back 100 years but it did not gain prominence until the discovery of the Prudhoe Bay Field on Alaska's North Slope in 1967. The area received a boost with the construction of the 800 mile long Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline in 1974, and production in the field began in 1977. To date, about 10 billion barrels of oil have been pumped from the North Slope.

  1. At about the same time Russia too was searching for oil and gas in the Siberian Arctic, and in 1966 the Urengoy gas field was discovered which went into production in 1978. It is the second largest gas field in the World with an estimated 100 trillion cubic metres of natural gas deposits. It still produces over two hundred billion cubic metres of natural gas each year much of which is piped to western Europe.
  2. The West-Siberian Pipeline is one of Russia's main gas export pipelines. It is 4,500km long and has a diameter of 1,420mm. Each year it carries 32 billion cubic metres of gas, via 42 compressor stations. All this activity is monitored by a cathodic protection system
  3. The mineral wealth of the Arctic is immense and mining companies are prospecting and extracting a wide variety of minerals. The Arctic's largest mineral deposits are to be found in Siberia. The Norilsk nickel company, which mines the Taymyr Region in the north central Siberia, owns rights to about one-fifth of the world's nickel deposits.
  4. The company enriches the ore at the Norilsk Concentrator. Copper conversion from the ore to metal is accomplished by smelting. The concentrates are dried and fed into the furnace. There the sulphide minerals are partially oxidised and melted to produce a layer of matter, a mixed copper-iron sulphide, and slag.
  5. One product of the smelting process is sulphur dioxide, which means that workers often have to make use of respirators. The gas is collected, purified and made into sulphuric acid that is later sold.
  6. Prudhoe Bay is North America's largest oil field and ranks among the 20 largest fields ever discovered worldwide. Of the 25'billion barrels of original oil in place, more than 13 billion barrels can be recovered with current technology.
  7. Located about 10 miles north east of Prudhoe Bay, Endicott is the first continuously-producing offshore field in the Arctic. Approximately 423 million barrels had been produced as of March 2003.

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