This paper addresses the physical and technological difficulties inherent in the extraction of marine hydrocarbons in the polar regions. The factors are then analysed to assess the potential for the transfer of current and emerging systems of technology from the Arctic, to the Antarctic. The paper begins with a review of the physical environment of the polar regions, and the technology currently employed in the Arctic, for hydrocarbon exploration. It then analyses the problems concomitant with the transfer of current and emerging technologies in the Arctic to the Antarctic.
Prior to any discussion of technological development in the polar regions, it is necessary to examine the physical environments which prevail there, and to emphasise the great differences between these two vast regions.
To date the only significant exploitation of polar areas has been confined to the Arctic. A variety of ice types may also be encountered, leading to important differences, even between western Arctic ice and eastern Arctic ice. Three major distinct types of ice are found in the Arctic oceans; first-year ice, multi-year ice and icebergs. During the winter, most of the seas above 58 deg. N are frozen, apart from the Northeast Atlantic Ocean where the moderating effect of the Gulf Stream keeps the area largely ice-free (Figure 1.1). Offshore of Newfoundland, during the Arctic winter, new first year ice forms and is present for several weeks during February, March and April, subsequently melting in the summer. In the Beaufort Sea, the site of the majority of significant technological projects, first-year ice is present from November to July. Ice thickness ranges from 0.3 to 25m, a typical average for the Beaufort Sea being 15m. Generally, first year ice is flat and level.